With refined approach, Pillar hitting leadoff in spring

Gibbons says he's not ready to announce his Opening Day lineup

With refined approach, Pillar hitting leadoff in spring

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar walked just 24 times in 584 plate appearances last season. That's one of the reasons why he led off the first 12 games of the regular season, but then did so eight more times the rest of the year.

So it's interesting that the 28-year-old has led off in all 11 of the Grapefruit League games in which he's played, including Thursday's tilt against the Yankees. He already has five walks this spring, and he's hitting .407 after getting a triple in three at-bats in the Blue Jays' 11-5 loss.

"It's by design," said manager John Gibbons. "He's really focused on better plate discipline, getting back to using the whole field. And you see the results. He's driving the ball the other way. He's taking some walks. He's putting himself in good hitter's counts.

"Kev's always been an aggressive guy, a very aggressive guy. But he's recognizing that, 'Hey, if I tone that down a little bit, I can be that much better.' So it's been a conscious effort."

Pillar said he isn't reading anything into the fact that he's hit first in all of his spring appearances. 

"I've been enjoying it," he said. "It's something I've done. I wasn't successful at it, but I've worked hard at making myself better. I know it's Spring Training. You can't put too much stock in it. But I think it's going well so far. Someone's got to do it."

Toronto's most-used leadoff hitter in 2016 was second baseman Devon Travis, who has yet to play in a game while he rehabs from right knee surgery.

"I've definitely worked on my plate discipline and my approach, and as a result of that, I've been able to walk some more," Pillar said. "I don't think that's something you can necessarily control. I definitely control the pitches I want to swing at, and as a result, I find myself in better counts and being able to be even more selective and walking more. But I don't think it's as simple as me going up there and not swinging the bat and hoping I'm going to walk.

"You've still got to go out there and do it. You don't walk on your own. You don't get hits on your own. You've still got to put the bat on the ball. I know guys are working on things. I'm working on things, too."

Gibbons still isn't ready to announce who he expects to hit at the top of the order this season.

"We've got a couple more weeks. It will all play out," he said.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.