TORONTO -- The Blue Jays Baseball Academy is set to host its second annual National Challenger Baseball Jamboree on June 7.
The event will take place at Rogers Centre immediately following Toronto's game vs. the Cardinals. Participants will get to play a game on the field while receiving tips and instructions from academy coaches.
Challenger Baseball provides an opportunity for children with cognitive or physical disabilities to enjoy the benefits of playing baseball in a setting that caters to their needs. Each participant is assigned a "Buddy" who acts as a mentor and will assist players when needed.
"Challenger Baseball provides kids with disabilities the opportunity to do something that able-bodied kids do," said Ian McLean, who is the coordinator of Challenger Baseball. "It's just a huge victory for families that never dreamt their child would be able to play baseball. I am really pleased the Blue Jays are partnering up with us and helping to spread the word."
Participants of the jamboree must have a ticket to the game vs. St. Louis on June 7 in order to participate in the festivities. Registration for the event is available at bluejays.com/challenger. In addition to jamboree at Rogers Centre there will also be other events scheduled in Vancouver, Halifax, Moncton, Okotoks (Alberta), Spruce Grove (Alberta) and Regina at various points in the summer.
"We are thrilled to be a Challenger Baseball partner," Blue Jays senior vice president of business operations Stephen Brooks said. "Our experience in year one with the Jamboree was exceptional for all involved and we anticipate this will be a fixture the Blue Jays schedule for many years to come."
Pillar latest addition as roster remains in flux
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' game of musical chairs continued on Tuesday afternoon as the club promoted Kevin Pillar from Triple-A Buffalo and optioned infielder Jonathan Diaz to the Minor Leagues.
The moves came less than 24 hours after Diaz was recalled from Buffalo. Toronto has made 44 transactions this season, which trails only the Yankees for most in the American League East.
Pillar's arrival gives the Blue Jays a suitable replacement in center field while Colby Rasmus remains day to day with a sore right hamstring. Pillar also comes with some experience, after appearing in 36 big league games last season, and says he feels more prepared this time around.
"I can't say I was overwhelmed, but I didn't perform the way I know that I can perform," Pillar said. "Hopefully, second time is the charm and I'm definitely coming in with a different attitude, way more prepared this time, know what to expect. I don't have those same butterflies that I did six months ago when I came here the first time. I kind of feel like I'm here on a business trip and I feel prepared."
Pillar arrived in Toronto on a hot streak after hitting .405/.435/.667 over his past 10 games in Buffalo. Earlier this year, he enjoyed an 18-game hitting streak, and had reached base at least once in each of his past 26 games at the time of his promotion. On the season, Pillar is hitting .305 with 17 extra-base hits and 19 RBIs for the Bisons.
That's the type of production the Blue Jays have come to expect from Pillar in the Minors over the past couple of years. The same can't be said about his limited experience in the Majors, as Pillar hit .206 with a .583 OPS while recording three homers and 13 RBIs in 36 games.
Opposing teams began to expose his lack of discipline at the plate. There were plenty of times when a pitcher was able to get Pillar to chase a breaking ball in the dirt with two strikes. That led to 29 strikeouts, and Pillar knows all too well that the scouting report was out on him last year.
"That's definitely one of the biggest things I worked on this season, was some plate discipline," Pillar said. "Just getting a better approach, maybe not getting to two strikes as easily, being more aggressive. But once I did get to two strikes, learning where I had to look -- not to chase that slider down and away."
Pillar's addition gives the Blue Jays some much-needed depth in the outfield, but it does leave the club noticeably thin around in the infield. The decision to stick with an eight-man bullpen, combined with Rasmus' hamstring injury, meant Toronto had a two-man bench for Tuesday night's game against the Indians.
Toronto had made a seemingly endless list of roster moves in recent days. There have been 22 transactions this month and 10 in the last three days alone, which includes Minor League outfielder Kenny Wilson being claimed off waivers and assigned to Double-A New Hampshire.
That has put Buffalo in a constant state of flux, but at least it's better than the long commute Blue Jays players used to have to go through when the Minor League affiliate was located in Las Vegas.
"When they decided to move the team to Buffalo, I think maybe that's what they had in mind, being able to call-up guys," Pillar said. "With [Chad] Jenkins, it seemed like every other day he was going up and down. I think everyone [in Buffalo] realizes how close they are, Triple-A, and being an hour away, they can get called up at any time. It has been kind of a crazy week with guys going up and down but it's a deep roster down there."
Janssen records first save of season
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays bullpen has gone through more than its fair share of ups and downs this season, but the return of Casey Janssen could go a long way in alleviating some of those late-inning concerns.
Janssen officially made his return from the disabled list on Monday, but it wasn't until Tuesday night that the veteran reliever got his first save opportunity. The ninth had been a bit of an adventure for Toronto during Janssen's absence, as Sergio Santos, Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup all took turn in the closer's role.
It was back to business as normal during a series opener against Cleveland, though, as Janssen allowed just a bloop single in an otherwise clean inning to preserve a 5-4 victory and record his first save of the year.
"When he started closing a couple of years ago, he's been almost perfect," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after the win. "He was kind of forced into that role a couple of years ago when Santos went down and he's run with it. I mean, he's reliable.
"Early on in the season, we started out pretty good coming out of the 'pen closing some games, and then we hit a rough spot. So it's definitely good to have him back. You kind of just eliminate that inning, thinking he's got the ninth."
Janssen, who missed the first five weeks with a strained oblique, made his season debut on Monday night with a scoreless inning against the Angels. He allowed a leadoff walk, but was then able to come back and retire the next three batters he faced. Perhaps the most positive aspect of that outing was that Janssen arrived at the ballpark less than 24 hours later feeling fine and ready to pitch on back-to-back days.
That's especially encouraging considering Janssen's injury ended up taking a lot longer to heal than originally anticipated. That's not uncommon with strained obliques, as the soreness often has a tendency to linger and it's a difficult injury to receive effective treatment.
The 32-year-old attempted to begin a rehab during the middle of April, but had to be shut down because of the continued discomfort. He eventually returned and made three appearances with Double-A New Hampshire before he was activated from the 15-day DL.
"I think it can always get better," Janssen said after his debut. "I hate walking anybody, let alone the leadoff guy, but hopefully that was just a nerves thing and I'll get back to my game, which is attacking hitters and throwing strikes."