The Buffalo Bisons' lineup featured two new names at the top of the order: leading off was shortstop Jose Reyes and batting behind him was centre fielder Kevin Pillar. They were debuting for completely different reasons. Reyes, wearing #1 (and a Blue Jays helmet while at bat), is in Buffalo to finish up his rehab process. Pillar, wearing #58, was just promoted to the AAA Bisons from the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Reyes received a rousing ovation when he name was announced during the lineups, with Pillar receiving much less recognition.
Thad Weber started the game for the Bisons against the Durham Bulls, the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. In his previous start, Weber had pitched seven innings of no-hit ball. He retired the first couple of Bulls to extend his no-hit streak to 7.2 innings before Dan Johnson broke it with a double. He finished with another good start: 6.0 IP, 2 R (1 ER), 7 H, 5 K, 2 BB, with a wild pitch and a balk. He threw 91 pitches, 61 for strikes, and made several good defensive plays on the mound.
Jose Reyes had no defensive opportunities in the first, so his first action with the Bisons came at the plate in the bottom of the inning. He grounded out to second on the second pitch. He ran hard for about a third of the way down to first before letting up to a jog. Kevin Pillar followed and impressed the Bisons crowd by driving a single on a line, right past the glove of second baseman Fontenot.
Reyes had his first fielding chance in the top of the second, when Chris Gimenez hit a routine ground ball towards him. Reyes was not smooth with his footwork fielding it, but he got the job done, making a strong throw to first to get the 6-3 putout. Later in the inning, a bad bobble in right field by Moises Sierra followed by a even worse throw to home that was airmailed over the heads of every Bison gave the Bulls the first run of the game.
Buffalo responded quickly in the next half-inning, putting a run up on the board when Ryan Goins followed Jim Negrych's International League-leading 22nd double with one of his own.
Photo by Minor Leaguer
Reyes came to bat for the second time in the third, flying out to shallow right field after a 12-pitch at bat against J.D. Martin, in which he fouled off seven pitches.
"Jose understands the grind of what it takes to put together a good at bat and it's good for our guys to see that," commented manager Marty Brown after the game, "I thought that [12-pitch at bat] was a big positive."
The Bulls took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fifth when Jason Bourgeois smacked an RBI-double to the wall--the hardest ball hit off Weber all night. The inning ended on a Tim Beckham 5-3 ground out, with Jose Reyes ranging well to his right to back up third baseman Negrych on the play.
Again, the Bisons responded right away, scoring two on three straight hits to begin the bottom of the fifth. Catcher Sean Ochinko started off the hit parade with a solid single up the middle, then Reyes took the first pitch from Martin and doubled off the wall in right. Reyes showed good speed running around first base before slowing down a little to get to second standing up. With men on second and third, Pillar hit a bloop that seemed to hit the chalk in right field, but it was ruled foul by umpire Ryan Blakney, despite the standing protests by the entire Bisons bullpen. It didn't end up mattering, as Pillar took the next offering and hit it into the left-centre field gap. Reyes sped towards third, but Ochinko didn't get a good read on the ball and tried to tag, forcing Reyes to slow down. Fortunately for the Bisons, Ochinko and Reyes both scored easily on the double by Pillar, which would eventually be the game-winner.
Asked about Pillar after the game, Marty Brown deadpanned, "he was alright," then continued seriously, "he's a good-looking young hitter who gets the most out of his abilities."
A year ago today, Kevin Pillar was playing for the single-A Lansing Lugnuts and now the 32nd round draft pick is a step away from the major leagues after batting .313/.361/.411 in AA. His triple slash line had been surprisingly consistent in each of the four professional levels he has played in. He had a good start in his fifth level Friday night. The plan is to see how he is in various outfield positions. Brown expects to rotate Pillar, Moises Sierra, and Anthony Gose through the three outfield positions going forward.
Fast forward to the top of the ninth: the Bisons were still leading 3-2 with Brad Lincoln being asked to close it out. The lefty made it an "exciting" save by allowing a Gimenez single to start the inning. Pinch runner Brandon Guyer then stole second before Fontenot struck out. At the same time Rajai Davis celebrated up in Toronto, Lincoln walked pinch hitter Cole Figueroa. Jason Bourgeois then stepped up to the plate with runners on first and second. On the first pitch, Bourgeois hit a tapper back to the mound that was fielded well by Lincoln, who then spun around to throw it to Reyes to get the force at second. Figueroa had a nice slide into second base, forcing Reyes to jump over him as he threw to first. The throw was a little low, but first baseman Luis Jimenez caught it for the final out.
"[Reyes] had fun as usual," Brown noticed. On his energy level, the manager said that it rubs off on everyone, including himself. Brown was also impressed that Reyes sat down with the team in a pre-game meeting to learn all the signs--something that not all players on major league rehab assignment would volunteer to do.
"This is what I love to do," Jose Reyes said, talking about his jubilant mood on the field tonight, "I wasn't able to do this for a long time and now I get to do what I do best, and it's to play baseball. I like to enjoy the game as best as I can, especially since we're winning!"
Reyes was never at first base so we still don't know how he looks on pickoff plays, steal attempts, or slides in to second. He mentioned after the game that he is looking forward to getting a stolen base opportunity on Saturday. He expects that he can play on back-to-back days, although he admits that his ankle "is still a little bit sore."
The popular fridaynightbash! promotion and Jose Reyes's major league rehab brought 13,169 paying fans out to Coca-Cola Field for the Bisons' largest attendance after the home opener. They are likely to exceed that number Saturday evening for Star Wars Night.
Some additional observations:
- Luis Jimenez didn't look very good at first base, missing two balls that were hit directly towards him.
- Sierra, in addition to the throwing error in right, also had a horrible-looking swinging strikeout in the bottom of the eighth in addition to one he already had in the second. He did get a single though.
- In the bottom of the seventh, Kevin Pillar lost his bat into the crowd after a big swing, and it looked like it hit a child's face after it ricocheted off a row of empty seats (he appeared to be OK after being tended to by paramedics). The crowd booed as Pillar asked for the bat back to finish his at bat (he struck out). The same group cheered after someone from the Bisons came out to give the kid a brand new bat still in the wrapper.
- Gose did not play tonight, benched because of his inappropriate "mental approach" to the game. Brown said that Gose will be playing Saturday and that the two of them "had a good conversation" and that Gose is "antsy to play." Since returning to the Bisons after a brief stint with the Blue Jays, the young outfielder has been hitting .229/.269/.292, with 2 stolen bases while being caught 3 times.