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Pillar feels more relaxed in second big league stint

ARLINGTON -- Kevin Pillar looks noticeably more relaxed during his second go-around with the Blue Jays and that can only mean good things for the young outfielder.

Pillar made his Major League debut last season but never appeared all that comfortable. He seemed to be constantly pressing at the plate and frequently expanded the strike zone by swinging at balls off the plate.

There has been a different approach this year, and while it's too early to say whether that will lead to improved results, there have been some encouraging signs. The biggest breakthrough came Saturday night when Pillar went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored.

"I would say that last night were some of the most comfortable at-bats I've had since I've been up, either last year or this year," Pillar said Sunday morning. "Knowing that I'm going to have an opportunity to face left-handed pitching, I wanted to have good at-bats and show them that's a role I can fill at this point in my career.

"If they're going to roll out left-handed starting pitchers, I'm going to be a tough out and help the team win a game. That was the biggest thing about yesterday, it just felt good to contribute in some way to help the team get a victory."

Last year was a bit of a wakeup call for Pillar. It was his first sign of adversity after previously succeeding at almost level he played. Almost every young player has to go through that type of learning experience and it's how they respond which ultimately dictates the future success.

Opposing teams really began to expose Pillar's tendency to chase pitches out of the zone. The scouting report seemed to be for a pitcher to get ahead in the count early and then throw an offspeed pitch down and away. More often than not Pillar would bite and the end result was 29 strikeouts in 102 at-bats.

The overall numbers weren't exactly pretty as he managed to hit just .206 with a .250 on-base percentage. That raised some doubts about Pillar's ability to succeed at the next level, but this is also the type of hitter who has posted an OPS above .800 in all but one of his Minor League seasons.

The ability is there even if the same couldn't be said about his patience. That's one reason why his overall approach at the plate was a point of emphasis during the offseason and early stages of his 2014 season with Triple-A Buffalo.

"I think it's more mental than anything," Pillar said. "Mechanically it's trying to simplify a little bit, letting the ball travel a little deeper before I make a decision to swing. My second at-bat last night, I fouled off a lot of pitches, letting the ball get deep and that's a testament to staying with my approach, letting the ball get a little deeper.

"I think last year, part of it was trying to do too much, trying to get hits, not really seeing the ball out of the hand and this year I promised myself I wouldn't try to get hits, I would try to get good pitches to hit, and that's allowed me to lay off pitches down and away."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.
Read More: Toronto Blue Jays, Kevin Pillar