TORONTO – Opposing teams often pitch Josh Donaldson high and tight, and given that an errant 87-mph change-up from Kansas City Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera struck him on the left side of the face last Aug. 5, he understandably concluded it was better to be safe than sorry.
That’s why when the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman returned from the disabled list, he did so with a protective plastic flap attached to his batting helmet.
“Guys are throwing too hard,” Donaldson said after Friday night’s 7-6 win over the Texas Rangers. “It’s a part of the game, but I feel like there are a lot of balls that get lost up and in on me, so it’s just one more thing that can protect my face.”
Donaldson got lucky last year in Kansas City, as Herrera’s pitch caught some of the ear flap on his batting helmet before clipping him in the jaw, absorbing some of the impact from a frightening blow. He’d also been hit in the head by pitches in the minor-leagues during his ascent to the majors.
“When you start dealing with head things – and I’ve been hit in the head a couple of times – it’s not very fun to have to go through that,” said Donaldson. “If there’s some protection out there why not use it?”
Finding ways to protect the troublesome right calf that cost him 38 games on the disabled list will be less straightforward for Donaldson, although he has a plan on that front, too.
During his lengthy workouts in Dunedin, Fla., a couple of areas he focused on were ensuring that his muscles didn’t get too tight and quickly treating any potential imbalances or issues that arise.
In combination with a steady progression of baseball activities, he believes the calf he first tweaked at the start of spring training and twice re-aggravated before hitting the DL is in better condition to withstand the rigours of the season.
“I didn’t get a chance to play in a ton of games, but I was spending probably five, six hours each day going through the things I thought were important,” explained Donaldson. “With a calf, it’s different than anything I’ve ever dealt with in the past because it’s one of those things you can’t really hide and can’t get away from it. Like taking off for a ground ball, unless I just want to hobble my way over there, it’s not really game-like to do it that way. That’s why it was important for me to go through the amount of steps I went through, not just physically, but mentally being able to do it, as well.”
Donaldson certainly got tested both physically and mentally right out of the gate Friday, hustling into second on a double in his first at-bat, scooting over to third on a Jose Baustista groundout and then scampering back and forth at third with the Rangers shifted defensively for Kendrys Morales.
In the second, he also had to chase down a ball in left field, along with the usual load at the hot corner.
“That’s what was important for me on the way back, making sure I can handle whatever comes my way, whether it’s having to take off and sprint at a moment’s notice or make a turn and get to second base,” said Donaldson. “It felt good.”
To help ensure both he and Troy Tulowitzki keep feeling good, the Blue Jays intend to manage their playing time for the next little while, wanting to make sure they don’t do too much too quickly.
Manager John Gibbons said neither would start Saturday.
“That’s kind of the plan,” said Gibbons. “As we go along, when we have day games after night games, we’ll keep an eye on that for a little bit, anyway.”
Given the way the Blue Jays held the fort in their absence, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
“It’s been fun to come back and see how a little bit of success for some of the players in here evolves their mind and their way of thinking about themselves,” said Donaldson. “Ultimately I think it’s a good thing because these guys know they can go out there and win games. It’s important because we’re going to need 1-25 over the course of the season.”