TORONTO — For a moment there, as the ball left Josh Donaldson’s bat at 93-m.p.h. and soared into the right field corner, and Jose Bautista crossed home plate to cut a deficit in half, and the Blue Jays offence finally, mercifully, thrillingly appeared to be coming alive, it looked like everything might just be okay.
It wasn’t. While Bautista ran across the plate, Donaldson hop-stepped awkwardly into second, unable to put much weight on his right leg. When he got there, Donaldson bent over and massaged his right calf, the same one he injured early in spring training, the same one he tweaked on Sunday in a game against Tampa Bay, and the same one he felt was healthy enough to play on as his team began its home schedule this week.
And to his credit, Donaldson was looking like himself. After tweaking the muscle in Tampa, he was out of the lineup for only one night: the Blue Jays’ Tuesday home opener, a game the 31-year-old said he would have started if it were up to him. He even got into the contest in the ninth inning as a pinch hitter, striking out against Milwaukee Brewers closer Neftali Feliz.
And there he was the next day, back in the lineup as a designated hitter, walking twice in four plate appearances and running the bases without hesitation. After the game he said everything felt fine. He looked like—and more importantly felt like—he was through the weeds.
He played designated hitter again Thursday, and busted his tail up the line in the fourth inning after hitting a soft grounder to the left side. It even appeared that he beat the ball to the bag, although MLB video review in New York determined he was out. Donaldson didn’t show any signs of discomfort on the play and jogged back to the dugout following a brief explanation from an umpire.
But then came his third at-bat of the night—the one where he hit the laser down the right field line, charged out of the box, rounded first base confidently, and then looked like a sniper got him. When Donaldson limped into second base, he stood on the bag for a moment, waited for time to be called, and immediately started making his way to the dugout.
Blue Jays head trainer George Poulis and manager John Gibbons jogged out to meet him, but Donaldson walked gingerly past them and directly to the Blue Jays clubhouse with little discussion.
“It’s the same calf,” a terse Gibbons said after the 2-1 loss, which dropped his team to 1-8. “There’s always concern. It’s basically the same injury. But tomorrow, after he sleeps on it overnight, we’ll have a better idea.”
Of course, Donaldson has been dealing with injuries in his right calf since early in spring training, when he suffered a strain on the outer half of the muscle while running sprints. The 2015 MVP took a very cautious, deliberate path back to game action, one he and the team hoped would eradicate the injury completely.
The tweak Donaldson suffered in Tampa on Sunday was said to be a separate ailment, this time on the inner side of his calf. Donaldson said the discomfort was far less severe, comparing the spring training injury to the sensation of someone punching him in the calf over and over again when he ran. This time he said the pain was much more manageable.
But there’s clearly something awry in the muscle, and the Blue Jays will surely think long and hard about a disabled list stint for their three-time all-star, who’s far too valuable of a player to continue playing through it.
Donaldson will no doubt be strongly resistant to that idea, as he’s played at least 155 games every season since 2013. He’s exceptionally prideful; he hates missing games. And his teammates need all the help they can get.
“Let’s hope he doesn’t, I’m going to try to be as optimistic as I can about that,” Blue Jays right-fielder Jose Bautista said about the possibility of Donaldson hitting the DL. “He’s definitely one of our biggest contributors, if not the biggest.”
Story checks out. Donaldson has been worth 16.8 wins above replacement since joining Toronto in 2015, second only to Mike Trout over that span. And he was one of the lone Blue Jays having a strong offensive 2017, carrying a 1.014 OPS into Thursday night’s game—the highest on the team by a mile.
So, losing one of the best offensive players in baseball at a time when your team is struggling mightily to produce offensively is decidedly not good. How long will he be lost? That remains to be seen.
The Blue Jays say the plan now is to see how Donaldson feels Friday morning and go from there. The third baseman sent word through a team representative that he would address the injury Friday, preferring himself to see how he feels when he wakes up. Until then, Blue Jays fingers will remain crossed.
“It’s tough,” said Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin. “He’s the kind of guy who can be a catalyst for us. He brings a lot of energy. And he does damage. He’s one of the best offensive players in the league. I see how he works and how he prepares, before he’s even in the lineup or before he’s even on the field before the eyes of the people. He works tremendously hard.
“So, it’s definitely tough to see him limp off the field like that. Hopefully it’s nothing too severe.”