PHOENIX -- Kevin Pillar wasn’t scared to step back into the batter’s box. The Mets outfielder had yet to do so in a game when he was activated from the injured list on Monday afternoon, but he didn’t think he’d feel apprehension about facing big league pitching again.
On May 17, Pillar was hit in the face by a 94 mph pitch. Exactly two weeks later -- after undergoing facial surgery to repair multiple nose fractures -- he was back with the Mets. There hadn’t been a way to recreate a game setting, and Pillar felt he didn’t need to go on a rehab assignment. He was ready to go.
“I’m going in feeling confident,” Pillar said before Monday's game. “My expectations are still high to be successful.”
Pillar stepped up to the plate for the first time in the eighth inning of the Mets' 6-2 win over the D-backs at Chase Field, receiving a loud ovation from the large number of Mets fans in attendance and his teammates in the first-base dugout. That was followed by a single, as Pillar ripped a 2-1 sinker from right-hander Stefan Crichton into left field.
Pillar didn’t start the game, but manager Luis Rojas inserted the outfielder into left field as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning, completing Pillar’s incredible two-week comeback. Pillar is likely to be in the lineup at some point before the three-game series at Arizona concludes Wednesday.
“That was an emotional moment for all of us, just witnessing it,” Rojas said. “I mean, I didn’t think this guy was going to be playing at this point. It’s just amazing. This guy’s tough, we knew it before the incident happened and we’ve learned it more after the incident.”
Pillar’s nose isn’t completely healed. He noted that it will take four to six weeks for the fractured bones to fully recover. That’s why he’ll be wearing a protective mask while playing in the field and running the bases and will now use a C-Flap helmet while at the plate. The mask that Pillar will be wearing the next few days is temporary until a custom-built one, designed as an exact fit to his facial structure, arrives.
Pillar said he won’t wear the mask while batting because it “does prevent a little bit of the peripheral view.” However, he doesn’t expect it to impact his performance on the basepaths or defensively.
Perhaps some players would have taken more time before returning to big league action. Not Pillar.
That comes from a mindset that Pillar learned from his parents growing up, one that his folks still demonstrate to this day. Pillar noted that recently his mom, who rarely gets sick, was feeling ill and throwing up one night.
Pillar called to check on her the next day, and she was already working again.
“I get paid to play baseball. There’s a lot of people that go through injuries, go through illnesses and expect to have to show up to work every day,” Pillar said. “I don’t feel any different. …
“That’s kind of how I was raised, that’s how my parents are, that’s how they taught me and my brother to be, and I don’t expect to be any different. When I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go.”
Pillar was activated at the same time as first baseman Pete Alonso and right-hander Seth Lugo, reducing the number of Mets players on the IL to 13. Despite being without a plethora of key contributors, New York will open June in first place in the National League East.
Now, Pillar is excited to get back on the field and try to help the Mets stay there.
“The thing I pride myself on the most is being available,” Pillar said. “It was important for me to get back as soon as possible, considering everything that’s going on with this team right now.”