Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

Pillar or Saunders to hit leadoff for Blue Jays

Gibbons plans to slot Tulowitzki fifth in lineup
MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he will choose either Kevin Pillar or Michael Saunders to become the club's everyday leadoff hitter, while Troy Tulowitzki will hit fifth behind Edwin Encarnacion.

Saunders and Pillar will compete for the job this spring, and while Russell Martin will see some time there as well, it will only be to get extra at-bats during the Grapefruit League season and he's not being considered for the full-time role.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he will choose either Kevin Pillar or Michael Saunders to become the club's everyday leadoff hitter, while Troy Tulowitzki will hit fifth behind Edwin Encarnacion.

Saunders and Pillar will compete for the job this spring, and while Russell Martin will see some time there as well, it will only be to get extra at-bats during the Grapefruit League season and he's not being considered for the full-time role.

Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | More info

It had long been assumed that Tulowitzki would hit leadoff following the departure of outfielder Ben Revere, but Gibbons prefers his bat in the middle of the lineup. The club doesn't have a prototypical leadoff man on the roster but will instead allow Saunders and Pillar to battle it out for the job.

"We've talked about Pillar, we'll give him a shot at it; Michael Saunders, too," Gibbons said. "There will be some times, if Russell is catching a game, he might lead off just to make sure he gets an extra at-bat or two without having to catch a whole game, so don't get too excited about that."

Saunders has appeared in 45 games as the leadoff hitter -- 42 starts -- during his career and has a .321 on-base percentage over that span. He also spent some time in that role with Baseball Canada, but while Saunders was always known as a high-OBP player in the Minor Leagues, he has a .301 mark over parts of seven seasons in the Majors.

Video: TOR@CLE: Saunders singles in the Blue Jays' first run

Pillar has never hit leadoff at the big league level, but he did spend some time in that role in the Minors. Pillar has a career .303 on-base percentage over three seasons, with the highest point coming in 2015 (.314).

Second baseman Devon Travis eventually might be considered for the role, but he is not expected to return until May or June as the 25-year-old continues to recover from left shoulder surgery. No matter who wins the job, it won't be Tulowitzki, who initially was the club's leadoff hitter after joining the Blue Jays at least year's non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"After getting to know him a little bit, I like the way he looks down there hitting after [Encarnacion]," Gibbons said. "He has always been an RBI guy. He was fine with it last year, he did a good job with it, but that leadoff hitter is only one time a game anyway. Keep him down there backing up [Encarnacion] a little bit and if we can get him hot, doing his norm, we're that much stronger down there."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Kevin Pillar, Michael Saunders