The reality set in for Kevin Pillar during spring training.
After spending eight years as an everyday player with four different teams, the 32-year-old outfielder realized the DH wouldn’t be implemented in the National League and, barring an injury, he would likely be relegated to a backup role with the Mets, given the team’s other options.
It’s then, he says, the idea of the “Bench Mob” crystalized. That is, a group of players – with Tomas Nido, Jonathan Villar, Luis Guillorme and Albert Almora Jr., among the other components – dedicated to helping the team in any capacity.
“I think all of us just bought into the mentality that we have got to stay ready and wait for the opportunity to present itself,” Pillar said.
With Brandon Nimmo sidelined for the last 1 ½ weeks with an index finger injury, Pillar has crept into the spotlight as the replacement in centerfield. The regular playing time is bringing out the best in Pillar, who has posted a .341/.357/.585 slash line with two homers and seven RBIs in May after a sluggish start to the season.
Along the way, the Mets have won seven straight games and could return Nimmo to the lineup as soon as this weekend at Tampa Bay.
Pillar, who arrived over the winter on a two-year contract worth $6.5 million, had endeared himself to acting general manager Zack Scott when the two were together with the Red Sox last season.
“I got to watch him up close,” Scott said. “He’s a gamer and a leader. We obviously had an all left-handed hitting outfield, so he fit and always has mashed left-handed pitching. But he’s more than a platoon bat. He’s someone we could be comfortable playing every day if there was an injury.”
Pillar split last season between the Red Sox and Rockies after spending most of 2019 with the Giants. He was with the Blue Jays for the first six years of his major league career. He says he chose the Mets in part because of the “excitement” surrounding the team and the opportunity to win this season.
“The last couple of years I was in places where I was playing every day and really wasn’t competing for a whole lot, except playing for myself,” Pillar said. “Coming here I knew I still had a lot to give and I knew I could play every single day, but I really wanted an opportunity to come and win, so for me it was just keeping that same mindset like I would when I was playing every day.”
His routine included helping teammates prepare for certain pitchers and lending emotional support while staying ready if needed.
“It was difficult at first, but I stayed ready, I waited for my opportunity, you never want to see it come through injury, but it’s part of the game,” Pillar said. “I just felt like if I got that opportunity I would go out there and prove I could play every single day.”
Many of his fellow “Bench Mob” players have seen action, too. Villar has become the starting third baseman during J.D. Davis’ IL stint over the last 1 ½ weeks, and Jose Peraza has provided the Mets with a boost off the bench with Jeff McNeil banged up this week. Another key bench player, Guillorme, has been sidelined with an oblique strain.
“With injuries gives opportunities for guys to step up,” Pillar said. “I imagine when these guys get healthy things kind of return to normal, but getting an opportunity to go out there and play five, six, 10 days in a row is only going to allow myself to be more confident, same for [Villar], same for Nido, same for all these guys coming off the bench. I think it’s just something for us to rally around and remind ourselves we are an important part of this team.”