DETROIT – The Toronto Blue Jays barely had time to enjoy some welcomed roster additions Friday before suffering their latest subtraction, as the left calf tightness Josh Donaldson experienced earlier this week in Boston forced him to the disabled list.
Word of the decision came roughly an hour after the club announced the activation of Aledmys Diaz, ending a run of nearly two weeks without a natural shortstop on the roster, and outfielder Randal Grichuk, who also reworked his batting stance while rehabbing his knee sprain.
Outfielder Dwight Smith Jr., who did some early hitting on the field, and right-hander Jake Petricka were optioned to triple-A Buffalo to clear space while Donaldson tested himself on the field, and the Blue Jays felt some optimism about the boost.
"They were part of the original plan. I’m glad to see them," said manager John Gibbons. "It’s a new month, tough month of May, obviously. Now it looks like the way it’s supposed to look, now let’s see what we can do with it."
But the star third baseman, pencilled into an early version of Friday’s lineup, didn’t pass the necessary thresholds during his early work and with teams unable to backdate a DL stint more than three days, the decision was made to shelve him retroactively to May 29 and recall lefty Tim Mayza from Buffalo.
"I’m having improvements with it, it’s just not to the point where I’m comfortable sprinting and that’s the last and final stage," said Donaldson. "That’s one of those deals where I don’t want to take up a spot when I can’t come and run and play defence or anything like that to put our team in a bind. I felt like it was the best option and Gibby felt like it was the best option."
The DL stint is Donaldson’s second this season – he was out April 11-May 2 with right shoulder inflammation – and is in the same leg in which he experienced cramping during spring training. He also fought through calf issues last year in his right leg, sending him to the DL for the first time after he played in all but 19 regular season games from 2013 through 2016.
"I try not to be too concerned or stay too negative on the situation but it’s difficult at times," Donaldson said of managing frustration. "In the same breath, you’ve got to stay positive. It’s recovering, just not to the point where I felt like I could sprint and so that’s why we made the decision."
Up until the perennial MVP candidate went back on the DL, the Blue Jays looked set for a pick-me-up.
They had been without a natural shortstop since optioning Richard Urena on May 18 and have run through seven different players at the position, including catcher Russell Martin. While Diaz is no panacea, he’s a clear upgrade at the position and has shown pop at the plate while batting .216/.273/.431 heading into Friday’s action.
"It’s unfortunate because the couple of times I felt good (at the plate) an injury has come, first I hurt my back a little bit and now the ankle," Diaz said through interpreter Josue Peley. "When you go down to the minors you have a chance to look at yourself a little bit and try to work towards the middle of the field. That’s the stuff I worked on and hopefully it transfers over here."
Grichuk, meanwhile, struggled to a .106/.208/.227 batting line before his injury and focused on tweaking his batting stance during his rehab, seeking to be more upright at the plate as opposed to squatting too far the way he did earlier, causing too much loft in his swing.
"That’s partly what we were thinking," he said. "Balls that were elevated I wasn’t able to get on top of them because I was coming up. When you come up, your bat has to do something and it goes down. I was coming down from under the ball to try to get on top of the ball and it’s a tough thing to do when you have guys throwing 95-100 every night. Standing up taller will give me a lot cleaner bat path, staying above the ball and be able to come down to the ball."
Grichuk started the season as the everyday right-fielder but Gibbons wouldn’t say precisely how he’d be deployed right now, although with Steve Pearce also out he’s likely to be the platoon partner for Curtis Granderson with Teoscar Hernandez having earned himself regular at-bats.
If that’s indeed the case – "We’ll see how that all goes," was all Gibbons offered on the matter – Grichuk said he’d work to earn more playing time after a star-crossed beginning that included wrist and oblique injuries that held him back during the spring.
"I’m not one to try to make excuses. Maybe, maybe not," he said when asked if the lack of Grapefruit League reps may have impacted him. "I think starting the year, I felt like, two weeks in I was hitting .070 or something but I felt good at the plate. I felt like I was squaring the ball up, just up. I didn’t feel bad. A lot of times when players get into slumps, they start losing confidence and losing focus, panicking and trying to find a hit. I wasn’t doing that. It kind of showed me that no, it didn’t affect me.
"Maybe it did and I’m just trying not to let it get to me, but I felt pretty good and obviously it got away a little bit toward the end before I left. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t."
SHORT HOPS: Marcus Stroman (shoulder) threw a bullpen Wednesday and will throw another Saturday before he’s reassessed for his next steps. … Troy Tulowitzki (bone spurs both heels) is running without issue and he’ll continue progressions with both his running and his fielding. … Steve Pearce (oblique) is progressing slowly. … The Blue Jays’ July 8 home date with the New York Yankees has been moved from a 1:07 p.m. start to an 8:05 p.m. first pitch after ESPN selected the contest for Sunday Night Baseball telecast. Sportsnet will still air the game in Canada. … John Gibbons on Dwight Smith Jr.: "He’s showed a lot of people a lot of things. I think he can do the job, there’s just no spot right now. He’s a pro."