Donaldson has been ‘huge’ for Blue Jays’ lineup

Josh Donaldson hit a two-run homer, Hutchison pitched eight strong innings and the Toronto Blue Jays completed a three-game sweep of Baltimore, beating the Orioles 7-6 on Thursday night.

Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion aren’t yet rolling offensively, and yet the Toronto Blue Jays lead MLB in runs scored and home runs. One major reason for the offensive production? Third baseman Josh Donaldson.

Donaldson’s first homestand in Toronto was extremely productive, with 17 hits and four home runs in 10 games for a 1.259 OPS. It hasn’t taken long for him to become comfortable at Rogers Centre.

“It’s nice,” Donaldson says. “As a hitter you feel very confident every time you come to the plate just because you feel if you hit a ball well you have a good chance to do a bit of damage.”

His most recent home run travelled 481 feet, according to MLB Advanced Media, making it one of the longest home runs of the season. There wasn’t much doubt from the moment Donaldson connected.

“When I hit it I knew it was going to go out,” he says.

For the season he’s batting .333/.386/.619 and he’s among the top 10 in MLB with 0.9 wins above replacement. Manager John Gibbons will take it.

“Donaldson’s been huge,” Gibbons says.

Defensively Rogers Centre presents a challenge because of the new AstroTurf. When managers and players are asked to describe the playing surface, the adjective they turn to most often is ‘different.’

“It’s hard because you’re used to turf being fast and really being somewhat bouncy and this is kind of the exact opposite,” Donaldson says. “It’s slower.”

That said the softness of the playing surface didn’t take much of a toll on Donaldson over the course of the 10-game stay in Toronto.

“What I think is an advantage of it is my body definitely feels better from playing this homestand than it did after three games last year [as a visitor], so I think that’s a positive,” he says.

The Blue Jays now leave the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre for St. Petersburg, Fla., where they’ll begin a three-city road trip with three games against the Tampa Bay Rays. Donaldson’s encouraged that Toronto recovered from series losses to the Rays and Atlanta Braves to sweep the Baltimore Orioles.

“It’s good. Throughout the course of the year you’re going to have your times where you’re scuffling a little bit, so I didn’t feel like necessarily we were scuffling, but it was just kind of like we weren’t able to put the entire game together and score one more run than the other team,” Donaldson says. “But I felt like this was an important series for us because they’re the defending AL East champs and it was nice to be able to play well against them.”

A big reason for the Blue Jays’ strong play was their third baseman, and while they won’t need him to hit like this all year, the production has made up for some shaky pitching and kept them competitive.

GIBBONS BACKS CASTRO: John Gibbons recently took Miguel Castro aside and passed along a message: home runs happen to everyone at the big-league level; don’t let them get to you.

“They’re big-league hitters over there,” Gibbons says. “There are some all-stars, some guys that are going to take advantage. They’re going to get you sometimes. That’s just a part of it, but the key is to get that final out with the lead, which he’s done.”

So despite the three-run home run Castro allowed to Manny Machado in the ninth inning Thursday, Gibbons has confidence in his rookie closer. The Blue Jays like the way he’s mixing in his slider and change-up, and they really like the results: a 1.93 ERA and four saves in nine appearances.

“For a 20-year-old kid it’s pretty remarkable,” Gibbons says. “The job was kind of up for grabs there. He’s taken it and run with it.”

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