PHOENIX — Two weeks after avoiding serious injury when he was hit in the face by a pitch, Kevin Pillar returned from the injured list Monday to give the Mets at the very least, initially, an important bench piece.
Pillar was available off the bench against the Diamondbacks as newcomer Mason Williams received the start in center field. Pillar said the expectation is the Mets will consider him for the starting lineup as soon as Wednesday. A compromise was reached between him and the club that placed him on the roster Monday with the understanding he would ramp up baseball activity before rejoining the starting lineup.
Pillar sustained a broken nose when he was struck by a 95 mph Jacob Webb fastball in Atlanta on May 17. He underwent subsequent surgery to reshape the nose and says he returned on the original timeline he had set for himself.
“The thing I pride myself the most on is being available and it’s important for me to get back as soon as possible considering everything that is going on with this team right now and just make myself available,” Pillar said.
He added that he’s pain-free and will wear a protective mask when playing the field and running the bases for the next four to six weeks.
Before the injury Pillar was among the Mets’ hottest hitters — he had a .315/.351/.519 slash line in May, assuming the starting center-field duties with Brandon Nimmo on the injured list.
Pillar has become a cult hero of sorts among Mets fans appreciative of his toughness — he initially had hoped to play through the injury.
“I didn’t set out to be a cult hero, I didn’t set out to do anything,” Pillar said. “I just feel like I get paid to play baseball and there’s a lot of people that go through injuries and illnesses and are expected to show up for work every day, I don’t feel any different.”
Pillar relayed a personal story of finding out in recent days that his mother was sick and the concern he felt. When he called the following day to check on her, he says she was back at work.
“That’s kind of how I was raised and how my parents are,” Pillar said. “When I’m ready to go I am ready to go.”
The Mets initially used Johneshwy Fargas in Pillar’s spot, but the rookie outfielder last week sustained a shoulder sprain after crashing into the fence and was placed on the IL. Cameron Maybin (who was designated for assignment Monday) had played the position over the last week.
But the Mets took a four-game winning streak into Monday largely on strong pitching and contributions from new additions such as Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney, with Bench Mob holdovers Jose Peraza and Tomas Nido adding to the success.
Pete Alonso and Seth Lugo joined Pillar in returning from the injured list, as the Mets still await players such as J.D. Davis, Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil.
“You never expect to get to the depth that maybe we got to during this season,” Pillar said. “It just shows you [the front office] valued bringing in depth this offseason and a lot of it has to do with the culture that Luis [Rojas] created in that clubhouse and the players have created in that clubhouse.
“It’s good to see some guys coming back. I feel like we’re maybe a week or two weeks away from getting some more guys back. Hopefully we get on a roll here and health is on our side for the rest of the year.”