Donaldson halts health concerns as Blue Jays keep rolling

Josh Donaldson hit his second home run of the season and the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Chicago White Sox.

TORONTO – Three pitches into things Tuesday night Yoan Moncada sent a dribbler right along the third-base line that Josh Donaldson fielded and quickly relayed across the diamond, his solid throw to first coming just as umpire Jordan Baker ruled the ball foul.

By design or not, the toss on a dead play gave the third baseman a chance to show that he had enough in the tank to handle whatever came his way in the field. And he did just that in a 14-5 pounding of the Chicago White Sox, recording three defensive assists while adding a two-run homer and a laser-beam RBI single off the left-field wall.

“I knew it was pretty close and I figured, hey, this is a perfect opportunity for me to just let one go,” Donaldson said of the grounder in the first. “It ended up being foul so it didn’t really matter what happened, but I just wanted to get a gauge on it. It was nice.”

Donaldson was back at third base for the first time since opening day, when what the team has described as a case of dead arm left him struggling to make throws across the diamond.

A pair of issue-free throwing sessions Sunday and Monday suggested he had turned the corner and while he wasn’t slinging darts the way he usually does – he estimated his arm strength at 85-90 per cent – Tuesday’s performance offered something to build on.

“Not every throw that we make is max effort, you actually do not want to be max effort (all the time),” said Donaldson, saying he learned from Troy Tulowitzki to be smarter in picking spots to really unleash across the diamond. “You want to have the ability to get there but most of the throws we’re making are not everything that we have. I feel very comfortable in changing arm angles and I do feel like if I need to put a little extra hair on one that I do have that ability. I feel good about where I’m at right now.”

Donaldson’s return to the field defensively created more flexibility for manager John Gibbons, who put Kendrys Morales, who doesn’t really have a spot on the field, back at designated hitter.

“I wasn’t worried, to be honest with you, about anything,” Gibbons said of Donaldson’s throwing. “He made the plays tonight. Put that behind you.”

Here are some other talking points from the Blue Jays’ victory:

• A productive Aledmys Diaz akin to the one who was an all-star for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 radically transforms the Blue Jays lineup, and he showed that Tuesday with three hits, including a two-run homer in the third and an RBI double in the fourth (he was thrown out at third trying to stretch). That’s one reason why the back spasms that started after his homer and forced him from the game after six innings is worrisome for the Blue Jays, who have been looking for the bottom of the order to create offence. "It just got worse and worse as the game was going," Diaz, speaking through interpreter Josue Peley, said of the spasm. "We’ll see how it feels (Wednesday)." Another is that they lack depth up the middle right now with Troy Tulowitzki recovering from surgery and Richard Urena on the disabled list with an intercostal strain. Danny Espinosa is at triple-A Buffalo but he’s not on the 40-man roster and recalling him would guarantee his minor-league contract, something the team wouldn’t want to do for a stop-gap stint.

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• Donaldson decided to have some fun with the whistle gesture he made at White Sox first base coach Daryl Boston on Monday with his walkup music Tuesday, using Too Short’s Blow The Whistle for an at-bat. “I just had a lot of people requesting it and wanting to play with it,” he explained, “so I was like, alright, I’ll give the people what they want for one song.”

J.A. Happ had a strange outing, at times looking dominant as evidenced by his 14 swinging strikes and eight strikeouts, while also getting hit hard at other points, including an Avisail Garcia rocket that slammed off the facing of the third deck. In all he allowed four runs on seven hits with a walk and a hit batter over 5.1 innings of work. "I felt as strong as I’ve probably felt in the last two months, for sure," said Happ. "But I missed over the plate a couple of times and I got hurt when I did. It’s about continuing to tighten that up but I’m really pleased with how I felt. I’d be pleased if I felt that way going forward."

Graphic via Baseball Savant.

• Happ’s four-seamer got up as high as 95.2 mph but he was more reliant on his two-seamer, throwing it 34 times compared to 28 four-seamers. He used the two-seamer even more frequently on opening day against the New York Yankees, throwing 41 compared to 32 four-seamers. Last year, his split was 42-29 per cent four-seamers versus sinkers. "I’d be surprised to hear that’s the way it was," Happ said of the heavier sinker usage. "In the second half of this game I went to a few more four-seamers, I felt more comfortable with it. But it’s really any given day, whatever feels better, whatever I’m locating better with."

• Fundamentals are going to matter for the Blue Jays at the plate on days when they aren’t facing the kind of good hitting the White Sox offer up and they displayed some of it Tuesday night. In the second inning Yangervis Solarte led off with a double and Randal Grichuk followed with a groundball to the right side to advance him to third with less than two out. That was good. Less good was Kendrys Morales striking out and Solarte eventually being stranded. "Obviously tonight it was a blowout, but in a one-run game, a season can be made or lost on at-bats like that," said Grichuk. "Early in the count you might want to see if you can get a pitch you can drive, but late you’ve got to see what you can do. It’s not going to happen all the time, but you’ve got to see what you can do to get him over to third and let the guy behind you drive him in." Then in the sixth, Diaz singled and when Curtis Granderson followed by flying out to deep left, he cleverly tagged and took second. That allowed Diaz to score easily when Donaldson slugged a single at 115.5 mph off the left-field wall.

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• John Axford was sitting at 95-96 mph in the seventh inning but the hard stuff was all over the place, walking his first batter on four pitches and soon finding himself in a first-and-third jam after Jose Abreu’s liner to right popped in and out of a sliding Grichuk’s glove. The Canadian right-hander recovered, however, getting Matt Davidson to hit a comebacker and throwing home to get Moncada for the second out before Welington Castillo hit into a fielder’s choice.

• Granderson hit a triple in the fourth – when the Blue Jays went single, double, triple, homer in the span of four batters – leaving the team four shy of its season total last year. Granderson added an RBI double that kick-started a seven-run eighth in which they bludgeoned three different relievers. "That was nice," said Luke Maile, who had a two-run double in the rally. "We’ve done our damage the last few games in the seventh inning or later, I’m pretty sure, so to get a nice little cushion there and to keep adding to it, when they had an answer for us we did the same thing right back to them and then some, guys were pretty comfortable at the plate. Hopefully it continues."

• Attendance-watch: 17,451.

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