Red Sox’ Kevin Pillar on Making Difficult Catch in Right Field Corner: ‘It Kind of Goes Back to My Football Mentality: Catch the Ball and Be Ready for a Little Contact’

The Red Sox may have lost on Saturday night, but Kevin Pillar arguably made the best defensive play of the entire game, and we’re not talking about him gunning down Travis Shaw at home plate here.

Instead, we’re talking about what Pillar did in the top half of the seventh inning, when with one out and Heath Hembree on the mound, Rowdy Tellez laced a screamer down the right field line that appeared to be headed towards home run or at least extra-base hit territory off the bat.

Rather than that happening though, a speeding Pillar dashed towards the right field corner, caught Tellez’s liner, collided with the short wall, and fell on his back all while holding onto the ball in his glove.

Per Statcast, that line-drive from Tellez had an exit velocity of 95 mph and had a 29% chance of being a hit. Pillar prevented that from happening, and in his postgame media availability, recalled his high school football days among other things when talking about the web gem.

“It’s a difficult play,” the outfielder said. “It makes it even more difficult [at Fenway Park] with the lack of foul territory… A ball like that’s not hit very often in BP. You can’t really recreate that off a fungo. I just felt like I was getting close when I hit the warning track and took one last peek at the wall and you got to make a decision. In a tight game, you got to be willing to hit the wall. It just kind of goes back to my football mentality: catch the ball and be ready for a little contact and try to help this team win some games.”

Interestingly enough, Pillar initially started Saturday’s contest on the bench but was dispatched as a pinch-hitter in place of the slumping Andrew Benintendi in the fourth inning. At the plate, the 31-year-old went 0-for-3 with a punchout, but nearly lifted a fly ball of his own over the right field fence in the bottom of the ninth, which would have tied the game at two runs apiece had it gone over.

Through 11 games with Boston, Pillar is slashing .317/.333/.348 with one home run and five RBI.

Prior to embarking on his professional baseball career in 2011, the California native played wide receiver among a plethora of other positions on his high school football team at West Hills’ Chaminade College Prep., hence the callback on Saturday night.

For more on how Pillar brings what he learned playing football onto the baseball field, check out this 2017 story from TSN’s Scott Mitchell.

Red Sox Manager Ron Roenicke Excited to See What Alex Verdugo Can Bring to Table in Right Field

Based off the positions they primarily play, Alex Verdugo will be tasked with replacing Mookie Betts in right field for the Red Sox this season. Seeing how Betts has won four straight Gold Glove Awards for his defensive work at the position, that will surely be no simple task for the former Dodgers top prospect.

Still, even with those lofty expectations placed upon him as the centerpiece for Boston in the trade that sent Betts and David Price to Los Angeles, Verdugo has done well thus far playing one of the toughest right fields in baseball at Fenway Park during the intrasquad games the Red Sox have held since Summer Camp began. His manager, Ron Roenicke, said as much when speaking to reporters via Zoom on Friday.

“He’s replacing a very tough guy in right field and that’s not fair to put on him to carry that kind of load,” Roenicke said of Verdugo. “But I think when this guy gets comfortable and he gets his timing right, I think we’re going to have a really exciting player. I think he’s going to be really good offensively. He runs well. He’ll steal some bases and he’s going to play a very good right field.”

While the expectation is that Verdugo will see the majority of his playing time come at right field with his new team, the 24-year-old has experience playing the other two outfield positions as well. Since making his major-league debut with the Dodgers in September 2017, Verdugo has played 31 games in left, 69 games in center, and 35 games in right.

“I think he’ll do a really good job no matter where we put him,” added Roenicke. “It looks like more right field at this time, but things change.”

Wherever he may play this year, the former second-round draft pick just wants to play everyday.

“For me, I’m an everyday player,” Verdugo said earlier this month. “That’s just that. It’s that simple. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. I want to be out there every single day competing.”