Pillar's career resurgence continues with 7th homer of 2024

June 8th, 2024

ANAHEIM -- ’s remarkable transformation with the Angels continued on Friday night.

In a 7-1 loss in the series opener against the Astros at Angel Stadium, Pillar homered off of Framber Valdez in a multi-hit effort. While the rest of the offense didn’t follow suit, the veteran outfielder’s staggering improvement with the Angels continued.

Pillar began the year with the White Sox, where he posted a .160 batting average and .650 OPS in 17 games before being designated for assignment in April. Pillar ultimately elected free agency on April 29 instead of accepting an outright assignment to the Minors.

In a bit of a fortunate twist for Pillar -- and less so for the Angels -- Mike Trout was placed on the injured list with a torn meniscus in his left knee on April 30. Mere hours after the Trout news, the Angels signed Pillar to a one-year deal worth $740,000 to help fill the outfield void.

What’s transpired since is Pillar’s own interpretation of Trout. Since Pillar debuted with the Angels on May 1, he has a .375/.412/.663 line. That’s good for a 1.075 OPS that is third-best among players with at least 75 plate appearances over that span, trailing only Aaron Judge (1.427) and David Fry (1.159). For reference, Trout owns a career .299/.410/.581 line and .991 OPS that isn’t too far off from the run Pillar is on.

“If you talk to him, he’ll tell you this is the best year and time he’s had in a long time,” Angels manager Ron Washington said about Pillar. “We’ve needed everything he’s given to us. I’ve had him around before when I was in Atlanta so I know the type of person he is and the professional he is.”

In his first plate appearance Friday night, Pillar jumped on a first-pitch changeup from Valdez for a home run, taking a page out of the Angels’ playbook when they tagged Valdez for eight runs (tying a career high) and three home runs (career high) on May 20 in Houston.

In that outing a few weeks ago, all three of the home runs in a seven-run fifth inning came on the first pitch, courtesy of Nolan Schanuel, Logan O’Hoppe and Jo Adell. Pillar followed that blueprint and made it four first-pitch home runs against Valdez this year. The Angels are responsible for four of the six home runs hit off Valdez this season, doing so in just two of the left-hander’s 10 starts.

“Framber left something [over the plate on Pillar’s home run],” Washington said. “We got four hits, he got two of them. So he was on time tonight.”

Outside of Pillar’s home run (and single in the seventh inning), Valdez was about as close as you can get to perfect. After one of his worst career outings against the Angels last month, Valdez went the distance in a complete game and only allowed one run. Asked before the game how the Angels would approach Valdez after their success last time out, Washington said they’d adjust accordingly to the left-hander.

"Framber will give us that idea [on what the approach will be]. If he changes something, we'll have to make an adjustment,” Washington said before Friday’s game. “That's what it's about -- adjusting and readjusting. Right now, we're going to go up there and see what he's trying to do. We can look at all the film we want. But if he decides to make an adjustment, we have to make an adjustment. And he's the type of pitcher that you better be ready to make an adjustment for."

As it turned out, Valdez was more than ready to put his last start vs. the Angels behind him and make the necessary adjustments. Valdez struck out eight Angels batters, walked one, produced 13 ground-ball outs and pounded the zone with a 67 percent strike rate.

Angels starter Griffin Canning nearly matched Valdez through most of the game, as he only allowed one run through six innings. However, Canning ran into trouble in the seventh inning, when he departed with one out after allowing two runners to reach. Hunter Strickland entered and endured one of his toughest outings of the year, giving up a go-ahead three-run double to Yordan Alvarez and a two-run home run to Yainer Diaz.

Canning’s outing (three runs in 6 1/3 innings) gave the Angels five straight quality starts dating back to last Sunday in Seattle. For a team that had one of the worst rotation ERAs (4.50) through the end of May, Angels starters have more than pulled their weight recently.