LOS ANGELES — As Kevin Pillar walked up out of the visitor’s dugout at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, he pointed towards the left field corner. That’s where he and his brother Michael used to get tickets when they were young, using them to chat with relief pitchers and bullpen catchers.
“It was spur-of-the-moment stuff, or we’d come out and watch Sunday day games, or if we didn’t have practice, my dad would come home and say ‘Let’s go to the game,’” Pillar said. “I thought it was always really cool to be right by the foul pole, where you got to see the Dodgers bullpen warming up … I remember some of the bullpen catchers back in the day being really kind to me and my brother and talking to us throughout the game.”
The last time Pillar was at Dodger Stadium before his eighth-inning pinch-hit appearance on Tuesday, he was in the stands when Matt Stairs hit the biggest home run of his career for the Philadelphia Philles in the 2008 National League Championship Series. On Wednesday, he will be starting in center field there for the visiting San Francisco Giants.
After the Giants acquired Pillar — a West Hills, California native — on Monday night, manager Bruce Bochy and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi both said that Pillar, a career center fielder, wouldn’t take over for young Steven Duggar. “He’s not moving anywhere,” Bochy said of arguably the best outfielder in the organization.
When both Duggar and Pillar got to the park on Wednesday, that had changed. San Francisco will provide a runway for Pillar to get comfortable with the club, allowing him to start in center field. Both he and Duggar have agreed to the arrangement, however strange. Pillar will start in center, and Duggar in right, at least, for now.
“I’m not here to step on anybody’s toes,” Pillar said. “I just want to contribute. Hopefully, I can learn [the corners] on the fly and be the same guy I was in center field.”
The outfield situation has been a question mark ever since spring training. It’s why Pillar was the subject of the Giants’ desire throughout the offseason. Duggar, though, was thought to be the one immutable piece in center.
“We talked about it for a while after the game, and then I talked to Kevin about it, and it’s been a while since he’s played the corners,” said Bochy. “Duggar has more games there in the recent past.”
Pillar has played only 11 games in right and 77 in left over the course of his career, last playing the corners in 2015. Duggar last played right field in 2017, playing 22 games there for Single-A San Jose. He played 60 games in right in 2016, also for the San Jose Giants.
“I got to watch [Duggar] play last night, and do some pretty great things out there,” Pillar said. “Any time you’re sent to a new team, my main focus is to try to help this team in any way possible, with the understanding that it’s going to be a little learning curve for me, playing the corners. Once I get a little bit of work out there, it’ll all feel a little bit the same to me … I think they’re giving me a little bit of a courtesy today in allowing me to play center field … They’re trying to put me in the best position to succeed right away.”
Bochy did not know if the arrangement would be permanent, or if it would change as time went on.
“It’s good,” Duggar said. “I’m open to it. It’ll be good. It’ll be a lot of fun, having an opportunity to gel with Kev. It’ll be good. I’m excited for it. I’m accepting to all of it.”
Pillar said that although he’s used to being the leader in the outfield, he would defer to Duggar.
“I told him I’m going to rely on him a lot more than I typically would, playing center field,” Pillar said. “Typically, I like to be the alpha and the captain out there, and that’s not going to change with balls that I think that I can catch, but in terms of positioning, and him knowing our pitching staff and these hitters a lot better than I do. I’m going to defer to him, and [Gerardo] Parra had been awesome. He’s going to be a huge resource to me, having played in this division.”
Once the team returns to San Francisco, Duggar will start taking reps in right at Oracle Park — he’s paid close attention to how the ball caroms from his perspective in center — and Pillar will start taking reps in both left and right during batting practice. Pillar didn’t do much of anything once he got in from his cross-country, international flight on Tuesday night. He barely even swung a bat before climbing in as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning. After the game, he found Bochy and the two got to talking. That’s when Bochy asked what would be most comfortable for his new outfielder.
“I think the transition’s a little easier for Duggar off the bat, but it’s great to have two center fielders out there, and they’re both good doing whatever,” Bochy said. “We think it’s the best way to go.”
Duggar will definitely play center when Pillar gets the day off, and vice versa, but Bochy indicated that Pillar would be the default in center field, as the Giants keep their flexibility.
“We could switch and put Kevin in right field,” Bochy said. “That could happen.”
Pillar is batting sixth on Wednesday, and he said he’s comfortable hitting anywhere in the lineup, save for ahead of the pitcher, being a lifetime American Leaguer. He’ll hit higher in the order against left-handers.
Pillar will have his immediate family all in attendance, including his brother, who lives in Thousand Oaks, and his parents, Mike and Wendy, who still live in West Hills. His wife is in the process of moving back to California — she’s a Sacramento native — with the couples’ 15-month old daughter, who was born in California, so there won’t be any immigration or visa issues. His parents will fly up this weekend for Friday’s home opener at Oracle Park, and his in-laws are on the way to San Francisco to meet his wife.
“The nice thing about coming back West is that we have family nearby,” Pillar said.
After the most sleep he’s gotten in about a year — Pillar slept until 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, without having to get up to tend to his daughter — Pillar said he’s starting to fit in a lot easier and a lot quicker than he thought he would.
“It’s easy to have fun,” he said. “You get out there every day with the opportunity to win a game.”
— Buster Posey got the day off on Wednesday, with Erik Kratz starting behind the plate for Derek Holland. Posey has started the season hitting 3-for-18 after having his 2018 cut short by hip surgery, and taking a slow, ramping-up approach in spring training.
“He’s still trying to get in that groove, get his rhythm and timing,” Bochy said. “It’s not quite there, obviously, but he’s close. The most imporant thing is, he feels healthy. There’s nothing that is bothering him. He’s just to adjust, because he had that hip fixed. I think you look at spring training, we did have to slow play him, so he didn’t get a lot of at-bats. He’ll find it. You know what a great hitter he is. I’m not concerned.”
— With the acquisition of Pillar, at-bats will likely be taken away from Connor Joe as well as Yangervis Solarte, Pillar’s teammate last season in Toronto.
“He’s trying to get his timing, but we need some offense right now,” Bochy said of Joe. “He’ll settle down, and get acclimated. It’s not an easy deal to get traded right at the end of spring training, to a new club, and make your debut in the big leagues on Opening Day. Just give it some time.”
— While Pillar joked that he’d have to convert some of his close family and friends (all from Southern California) to Giants fans, Time Warner Cable and Spectrum Sports LA — the Dodgers’ network that’s unavialable on any other provider save for Time Warner — may already have helped with that.
“They can’t watch games, so it was an easier transition,” Pillar said.
— Duggar’s surgically-repaired left shoulder felt “a little cranky” after his diving catch against the Dodgers on Tuesday, but he woke up feeling fine on Wednesday. He experienced just normal soreness he would have experienced without surgery.
“I feel good,” he said. “It was a little cranky after that, which I expected it would be. That was a pretty hard fall, but I’m excited, after all that preparation. I think mentally, more than anything, you’re kind of waiting, feeling good, excited for the opportunity, and last night was the first one, so I’m excited to get it out of the way.”