CHICAGO – The protective plastic flap Josh Donaldson attached to his batting helmet when he returned from the disabled list in May is gone, and over the past nine games the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman has enjoyed one of his most productive stretches of the season.
“I felt there was a couple of times when I had it on there it was blocking me out of a couple of pitches or I was having to turn my head in a certain manner to get a good look at the pitcher,” he explains. “I tried to make some adjustments on it and it really wasn’t working as far as moving the flap down. So I was just like, to heck with it, I’m just going to get my other helmet and go from there.”
Donaldson made the change July 18 at Boston for the second of four games versus the Red Sox while facing, “some pitchers that throw across their body outside of the normal lane you have to look in, it was making it difficult for me. I felt like I almost had to look around it at times.”
The results weren’t immediate, as his batting average hit a season-low .236 on July 22 at Cleveland, but has surged up to .250 since then thanks to an 11-for-33 stretch with four homers, three doubles and nine walks over his past 10 outings.
He went deep in each of the three games versus the Chicago White Sox this week, and he’s coming into Friday’s series opener at the Houston Astros hot, which bodes well given that he was 6-for-10 with a homer, five RBIs and six walks against them during a four-game set in Toronto before the all-star break.
“He’s feeling good about himself, no doubt,” says manager John Gibbons. “That’s who he is. He looks like the old guy.”
Last time out, the Astros threw him fastballs roughly half the time, with breaking balls and off-speed offerings the other half. Over the past week and a half, he’s seen very little of the soft stuff, opponents feeding him a steady diet of fastballs or breaking balls.
“I felt the guys were pitching me pretty tough for about two weeks straight and I’m not saying these guys weren’t, but I was able to take advantage of a couple mistakes that they made,” says Donaldson. “In the past I’ve just been missing those balls and fouling them back. This is the big leagues, you don’t get a lot of mistakes so when you do get them, you have to make sure you make them count.”
Donaldson has also collected 14 of his 45 walks this season in the 19 games he’s played since the all-star break, another sign of how sharp he’s been at the plate of late. He noted that he’d spent extra work in the batting cage in recent days working both on his swing and his approach, and “so far, it’s working pretty well.”
“Just staying disciplined to my plan. Really grinding out at-bats,” he says. “There have been several times when I’ve gotten down 0-2 and was able to grind it out and work a walk out of that. That’s a win for me. Really just going up there and focus on having good at-bats.”
BAUTISTA ON WAIVERS: The Blue Jays have placed Jose Bautista on revocable waivers, Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network tweeted Thursday, and even he noted that it’s standard procedure.
Teams will run all their players through revocable waivers in August as an information-gathering exercise, trying to assess which of the other clubs has interest in their players. An overwhelming majority of the time, teams simply pull their players back once a claim is made, although occasionally they may work out a trade together or simply let their player go, the way the Blue Jays did with Alex Rios in 2009 when the White Sox claimed him. That was a salary dump in the truest sense.
Any player that passes through revocable waivers unclaimed can be traded to any club.
In Bautista’s case, it’s worth remembering is that he has veto power over any change in his assignment by virtue of having 10 years of service time in the majors, at at least the last five with the same club.
So much like last month, in large measure he controls the process, and GM Ross Atkins noted Monday that, “nothing came to fruition where we had to say to Jose, ‘Is this something you would do or would not do?’”
BACK HOME FOR AOKI: An off-day in Houston ahead of a three-game series against the AL West leaders is especially conveniently timed for Blue Jays outfielder Nori Aoki, who quickly left the Astros after his trade and now has a chance to get packed up for his next two months in Toronto.
The 35-year-old outfielder from Hyuga, Japan, knows little about his new digs beyond Toronto being “very beautiful” and a familiarity with Niagara Falls, although a popular former Blue Jays player did tell him what to expect.
“I’m really good friends with (Munenori) Kawasaki,” Aoki said through interpreter Kosuke Inaji. “When I got traded here he sent me text messages saying welcome to Toronto.”
Aoki joined the Blue Jays on Tuesday in Chicago but has yet to play and manager John Gibbons continues to be unsure how to employ him. Bautista, Kevin Pillar and Steve Pearce will get primary playing time with Ezequiel Carrera in the mix, too.
“We’ll see,” says Gibbons. “I think it’s important to use them all.”
As for how he sees his opportunity after leaving the World Series-contending Astros for the Blue Jays, Aoki says: “Honestly, I haven’t really thought about it yet, everything has been kind of hectic the last day. My feeling is that I just want to contribute here, try to go for the wild card and become part of the team.”
OSUNA MATATA: Consecutive blown saves for Roberto Osuna led to some sudden second-guessing of his heavy cutter usage of late and demands he throw his formidable four-seamer more often.
But there were few complaints about his pitch usage in mowing down the White Sox on Wednesday, when he threw six sliders, four two-seamers and a cutter in easily escaping a two-on, none-out ninth-inning jam he inherited.
That’s why manager John Gibbons says he does, “very little second-guessing.”
“I’ve been back there, I know what that’s all about,” he continues. “Sometimes you’ve got to make adjustments on the fly, what’s working that night, what’s not working. It’s so easy to sit off to the side and question. They’ve got the feel of the game, he’s an established guy, has had a lot of success. So I don’t worry about that. The game got away (Monday) night but he didn’t pitch too bad other than he hit the guy. Infield chopper and then a couple balls off the end of the bat. Good hitting. But it’s not like he was sitting there getting hit around.
“Osuna’s been on such a good roll. Those things happen. I’m not dismissing it, but those things happen.”
According to Baseball Savant, over the course of the season Osuna has thrown 665 four-seam fastballs, 216 sliders, 91 two-seamers, 81 changeups and 65 cutters. A reason for him to be cutter-happy? His whiff rate on it is 29.2 per cent, the highest of any of his offerings.