Blue Jays giving Giants’ Kevin Pillar the spotlight all to himself

Pillar spent his entire career with Toronto until he was traded to the Giants on April 2

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – APRIL 13: Kevin Pillar #1 of the San Francisco Giants hits a sacrifice fly scoring Gerardo Parra #8 of the San Francisco Giants against the Colorado Rockies in the bottom of the third inning of a Major League Baseball Game at Oracle Park on April 13, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

TORONTO — Tuesday could have been the most important day of the season for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Instead of generating excitement and creating a buzz around the franchise by promoting their top prospect, the Blue Jays are reserving the spotlight at the Rogers Centre for Giants center fielder Kevin Pillar.

The No. 1 prospect in baseball, third baseman Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., is being billed as a franchise savior. But with Toronto electing to stash Guerrero in Triple-A, Tuesday is all about the return of a hero.

“Superman” –as Blue Jays fans called Pillar– is back.

Pillar’s modest career numbers suggest he’s nothing more than a solid big league outfielder, but that’s not how he’s viewed in Toronto. Blue Jays fans fell in love with the former 32nd round draft pick during Pillar’s seven-year run in Toronto as he became the franchise’s most popular player.

Three weeks after Pillar was traded to San Francisco, he’s bracing for an emotional return.

“This is the only place I’ve ever known,” Pillar said. “This is the only place I wanted to be at. That’s all taken away from you in a matter of seconds. By the time I pick up the phone and hang up the phone, my whole world and my whole life is flipped upside down.”

Toronto-based media members have suggested the Blue Jays did not want Guerrero to compete for attention in his major league debut. Many fans in a hockey-crazed city will be tuning into Game 7 of the Toronto Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins series on Tuesday while others are hoping the Toronto Raptors can clinch a playoff series win over the Orlando Magic down the street.

If the Blue Jays planned to contend for a playoff berth, holding Guerrero in the minors an extra day would be malpractice. Sending him to Triple-A to begin the season was already a controversial decision, but at this point, the Blue Jays probably want the son of a Hall of Fame outfielder and the most hyped prospect in the game to have the stage to himself when he arrives in the big leagues.

Guerrero knows he can’t control his fate, and so does Pillar, who expressed multiple times during his time in Toronto that he hoped to remain a Blue Jay for life.

“You quickly learn when something like that happens that there’s a lot of things out of your control,” Pillar said. “We’ve always known that as players, but I’ve been so naive to that because I’ve only ever been here.”

The Blue Jays are planning a video tribute for Pillar that will play on the scoreboard prior to Tuesday’s series-opener. Toronto will also play Pillar’s walk-up song, “Don’t It,” by Billy Currington, before his first at-bat.

Those types of accommodations are rare for a visiting player, but Pillar was adored in the city and took time before Tuesday’s game to express gratitude for the way he and his family were embraced.

“I try to set the bar low,” Pillar said of the planned pregame tribute. “Just see what happens. But I saw the way the great fans of this team had appreciation for guys like Edwin (Encarnacion) and Jose (Bautista) when they came back and I’m looking forward to hopefully a similar reaction.”

Shortly after Pillar was acquired, Giants manager Bruce Bochy indicated he may ultimately move to right field so the club can shift Steven Duggar back to his natural position in center field. On Tuesday, Bochy said Duggar has acclimated so well to right field that “there’s no point in changing,” the team’s current defensive set-up and that he expects Pillar to remain in center field for the rest of the season.

Suarez to Triple-A IL

Triple-A starter Andrew Suárez was placed on the injured list Tuesday after suffering a grade one left hamstring strain in his last start. The Giants estimate that Suárez will miss at least the next two weeks.

After making 29 starts during his rookie season last year, Suárez began the 2019 season in the minors.

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