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Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar hits a double in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Rogers Centre in Toronto, August 23, 2016. (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)
Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar hits a double in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Rogers Centre in Toronto, August 23, 2016. (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)

'It's mind over matter': Pillar prepared to play hurt as Jays aim for playoffs Add to ...

It is that time of the year when the walking wounded have to start sucking it up as the Toronto Blue Jays continue their somewhat staggered march toward their goal of a second consecutive playoff appearance.

For slugger Jose Bautista, that will mean seeing extended playing time as the designated hitter until the club is certain his wonky left knee can withstand the rigours of everyday work in right field.

And for Kevin Pillar, who returned to the starting lineup Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Angels after sitting out 13 games because of a sprained left thumb, it will mean wearing extra padding on the hand every time he gets on base to protect against further damage.

The ligament in the thumb is completely torn, something that the acrobatic centre fielder said would likely require surgery to repair once the season has concluded.

But in the meantime, Pillar said, it is time to play hurt.

“I’m good enough to go,” he said in an interview at his clubhouse locker prior to the start of the game against the Angels at Rogers Centre. “I feel confident that it’s not going to hold me back from things that I feel like I bring to the table.”

Pillar said he is feeling pretty comfortable that the thumb will hold up, especially after a whirlwind trip to Florida over the weekend for a little rehab tuneup with Class-A Dunedin.

During the two-game stint, Pillar went six for seven at the plate and took a regular turn patrolling centre.

“Numbers are deceiving,” Pillar said. “I wouldn’t say I was killing the ball, but I had some good at bats, I had some infield hits. I also drove some baseballs. But it wasn’t about the results for me. It was about being confident with whether my thumb was going to hold up, that I was going to be able to swing the bat.”

In that regard, Pillar added with typical bravado: “I passed with flying colours.”

But Pillar and Bautista are not the only concerns of the Blue Jays, who began Tuesday’s game in a tie for first place in the American League East with the Boston Red Sox.

Devon Travis, Toronto’s spark-plug second baseman and leadoff hitter, was kept out of Tuesday’s game after suffering an injury to the knuckle on his left ring finger.

Toronto manager John Gibbons said it is not certain how the injury happened, but that it was mighty sore when Travis reported for duty earlier in the day.

Travis was given a cortisone shot, and Gibbons hopes the infielder will be back in the lineup for Wednesday’s game.

Pillar last played on Aug. 6 against Kansas City and injured himself when he jammed his thumb into the dirt diving head-first on a successful steal of second base.

He said the head-first slides will probably remain, but for now he will be more ready to deal with the risk factors of such dives.

Along with wearing a plastic thumb guard that many catchers wear to protect their thumbs from bending too far back, Pillar will also don a foam protector over his sore hand every time he reaches base.

Pillar refers to the goofy-looking contraption as an oven mitt.

Even with all that, he expects he will be wincing at times when making a catch or checking a swing.

“It’s mind over matter sometimes,” he said. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. It’s the time of year where you’ve just got to find a way to get it done. And to me, playing with pain is something that I’ve done in my life and in my career. I want to be a part of this [pennant drive].

“And the big thing for me was making sure that I was going to be able … to contribute, not just go out there and try to play.”

The return of Pillar to centre shifts Melvin Upton Jr. back over to left, with Michael Saunders working in right during the absence of Bautista, who is expected back on Thursday.

Bautista last played Aug. 9 when he stumbled awkwardly and turned his knee during a game against Tampa Bay.

It was anticipated that Upton – who was hitting .278 with three home runs over his last 11 games – would return to part-time duty once Bautista returned, but Gibbons said that wouldn’t be the case.

“He’s going to play a lot,” Gibbons said, referring to Upton. “When Jose comes back … he’s going to need to DH a lot with his knee. It feels good, but the smart thing to do is let him DH quite a bit.”

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