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Pillar sparks Blue Jays with double and hustle

Center fielder eludes tag in close play at plate; blister issue for Stroman
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Kevin Pillar didn't even start on Sunday afternoon, but all he needed was one half-inning to make an impact and help the Blue Jays avoid a three-game sweep.

Pillar hit a key pinch-hit double in the bottom of the sixth and later came around to score on an aggressive baserunning play that gave Toronto a lead it would not relinquish in a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay at Rogers Centre. Right-hander Marcus Stroman allowed one run over five innings before he was forced to leave with a blister on his right middle finger.

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TORONTO -- Kevin Pillar didn't even start on Sunday afternoon, but all he needed was one half-inning to make an impact and help the Blue Jays avoid a three-game sweep.

Pillar hit a key pinch-hit double in the bottom of the sixth and later came around to score on an aggressive baserunning play that gave Toronto a lead it would not relinquish in a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay at Rogers Centre. Right-hander Marcus Stroman allowed one run over five innings before he was forced to leave with a blister on his right middle finger.

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The Blue Jays' lineup was asleep at the wheel for the third consecutive game until Pillar woke everybody up with his pinch-hit double. That put runners and second and third with nobody out and paved the way for a two-run rally that was all the Blue Jays would need to win for just the second time over their last seven games.

Video: TB@TOR: Stroman goes five strong innings, leaves hurt

"A day off is good once in a while, but every time you step onto the field you have an opportunity to do something out there to help your team win," Pillar said. "Especially with the Rays, the way they use their bullpen, the way they match up, you knew it was only a matter of time.

"You kind of have to think along with the manager, with the bench coach, you see the lefty warming up for Grandy, and you figure it's only a matter of time before I get in there."

Video: TB@TOR: Gibbons on team's 2-1 comeback win

The 29-year-old Pillar initially was scheduled for a rare day off in the series finale. Randal Grichuk got the start in center field but when the Rays turned to lefty reliever Jose Alvarado in the sixth inning, manager John Gibbons lifted right fielder Curtis Granderson from the game in favor of Pillar. With Luke Maile on first after drawing a leadoff walk, the count went to 1-1 before Pillar ripped a double into the left-field corner to set up Toronto's best scoring opportunity of the day. 

Video: TB@TOR: Travis knocks in a run on single to center

Devon Travis followed with an RBI single to score Maile and tie the game at 1, and then Pillar used his speed to put the Blue Jays in front. Grichuk hit a little dribbler out in front of the plate, but when Rays catcher Michael Perez threw to first, Pillar made a mad dash for home. He dove head first and appeared to touch home plate at almost the exact time that pitcher Ryne Stanek applied the tag.

With Stroman out after five innings, Gibbons turned to five relievers to close out the game with four scoreless innings. Jaime Garcia, Danny Barnes, Tyler Clippard and Ryan Tepera combined to allow just one hit and a walk over three innings while right-hander Ken Giles picked up his 13th save of the season and first since joining the Blue Jays by tossing a scoreless ninth.

Video: TB@TOR: Giles K's Adames to pick up the save

"I think he has done a nice job for us, he has the arm obviously," Gibbons said. "That's big. 2-1 game, he's still settling into his new home. Our whole bullpen, Clipp came in to get a big out when they had two guys on. Tep had a pretty easy inning, he has been battling a little bit."

THE BLISTER IS BACK
Stroman left midway through the game because of a lingering blister issue on his right middle finger. The 27-year-old allowed five hits and threw just 76 pitches before he was taken out of the game. Stroman was spotted looking at his finger throughout the fifth inning, and a close-up during a broadcast on Sportsnet also showed the blister, which appeared to have popped open.

Video: TB@TOR: Stroman leaves start with blister injury

This was the second consecutive start that Stroman had to leave early because of the blister. Stroman left a start against Boston on Tuesday after seven innings because of the same problem, and it has been a recurring issue dating back to last season.

"It is what it is," Stroman said. "I'm a competitor. I'm going to get through it. I'm going to make my starts. I'm not going to miss starts at this point. It's something that I'm going to get through. My body and arm are feeling great, that's the most frustrating part. My pitches feel great.

"I had to essentially go to two pitches today. I just threw sinker, cutter, today because I couldn't put pressure on my curveball or slider. But I feel good, man, just hoping it gets better over the next few days."

Video: TB@TOR: Stroman snags comebacker in the 1st inning

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Rays challenged the safe call on Pillar's slide at home, but it was ruled that the call stood, which means there was not enough video evidence to either confirm or overturn the call.

"We have limited camera views here at Rogers Centre, maybe that helped us out a little bit there," Pillar said. "It's always nice when you're called safe in a bang-bang play like that. You need some overwhelming evidence to call someone out. With multiple camera angles, bodies being in the way, it makes it even more difficult to overturn something. You hold your breath a little bit and hope the call stands."

Video: TB@TOR: Pillar beats throw to plate for go-ahead run

SOUND SMART
The Blue Jays snapped a streak of 18 games without recording a save. The streak was tied for the 10th longest in franchise history.

BARNES GOING DOWN
The Blue Jays have yet to make it official but right-hander Danny Barnes will be optioned to the Minor Leagues before Monday's series opener in Kansas City. The move is to create space on the 25-man roster for right-hander Sean Reid-Foley, who is scheduled to start Monday vs. the Royals. Barnes retired the first two batters he faced on Sunday afternoon but then allowed the next two to reach base before he was pulled for Clippard.

UP NEXT
Reid-Foley will make his Major League debut when the Blue Jays open a four-game series against the Royals on Monday at Kauffman Stadium with first pitch scheduled for 8:15 p.m. ET. Reid-Foley, who is ranked Toronto's No. 10 prospect by MLB Pipeline, went 7-4 with a 3.50 ERA in 15 starts for Triple-A Buffalo prior to his promotion. Kansas City will counter with right-hander Brad Keller (4-5, 3.57).

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Kevin Pillar, Marcus Stroman