Veteran outfielder fulfilled a dream by playing for his boyhood team, but his 2022 time with the Dodgers was cut short by a shoulder injury that effectively ended his season after only two months.
Pillar was born and grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and played baseball at Chaminade High School in West Hills, about 30 miles from Dodger Stadium. He played college ball at Cal State Dominguez Hills, and fashioned a major league career, mostly with the Blue Jays, playing nine years in the majors for Toronto, the Giants, Red Sox, Rockies, and Mets.
He signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers in late March, two weeks prior to opening day. Pillar in an interview with Jack Harris at the Los Angeles Times in March explained why he signed a minor league deal after over 1,000 games in the majors:
“For me, I want to leave no stone unturned. I still believe that I can be a much better baseball player than I am right now. And this is probably the best place for me to try to figure that out. ... I’m betting on myself to be able to play this game at a high level for a couple more years. Even if that means I got to take a step back this year.”
Pillar impressed in spring training and, though he was one of the final roster cuts, earned praise from manager Dave Roberts, and as someone who could capably play center field, was a likely potential call-up during the season.
Pillar got off to a hot start in Triple-A Oklahoma City, with nine home runs and 18 extra-base hits in 36 games. It wasn’t just due to the inflated hitting environment of the Pacific Coast League, in which teams averaged 5.79 runs per game. Pillar’s .604 slugging percentage ranked second on Oklahoma City on the season, behind only James Outman (and Chris Taylor, who homered twice in two rehab games for OKC).
That earned Pillar a call-up to the majors on May 28, finally getting to play for the Dodgers.
I’m back! I’ve dreamed of this moment since I was a little kid driving down the 101 to Dodger stadium. Last couple months have been a journey but ultimately found my way home! #818 https://t.co/ccS96fGV9e— Kevin Pillar (@KPILLAR4) May 28, 2022
Pillar played 14 games at Dodger Stadium as a visitor prior to joining the team. His first game with Los Angeles was on the road at Chase Field in Phoenix before getting to don the home whites at Chavez Ravine.
He got his chance to play when Cody Bellinger was held out of the lineup three games with left leg tightness. Pillar started three times in left field and once in center. In the first three games he was hitless in 11 at-bats with four strikeouts, but on June 1 against the Pirates doubled against José Quintana. In his second trip to the plate, Pillar walked in the fifth then advanced to third base on a double by Gavin Lux.
In a slide at third base Pillar injured his shoulder, but remained in the game and scored on a groundout. Pillar was removed from the game after the inning, and told reporters after the game his shoulder popped in and out of its socket twice during the game. Further examination showed a fracture in his shoulder, and he landed on the injured list on June 2.
One day later Pillar was transferred to the 60-day injured list (making roster room for Eddy Alvarez), and that week had a procedure to repair his fractured shoulder. That surgery was expected to be season-ending, but Pillar worked his way back to resume baseball activities in August. After rehabbing at Camelback Ranch in Arizona, Pillar made it into actual games during the final week of the season for Oklahoma City, going 7-for-22 with a home run and a double.
That at least earned Pillar consideration for a potential postseason roster spot, as he was part of the group that worked out and played intrasquad games at Dodger Stadium in preparation for the National League Division Series. But LA was eliminated after only four games.
Stats: 1 for 12, double, walk in 4 games with LA; .315/.398/.604, 10 HR, 142 wRC+ w/OKC
Game of the year
Pillar’s only hit in the majors came in the game in which he fractured his shoulder, so that’s a tough selection here. Instead, we’ll turn to a Triple-A game on May 6 against Albuquerque, one of two four-hit games on the season for Pillar.
Pillar on May 6 homered twice for Oklahoma City, and also singled twice. He scored twice and drove in three as the leadoff man and center fielder in OKC’s 9-2 victory.