By ROBERT MACLEOD
Thursday, June 7, 2018
Josh Donaldson was prowling around third base like a caged tiger, fielding ground ball after ground ball hit to him by coach Luis Rivera and then making the long toss over to first.
More often than not, the throw was on line. But when the ball drifted off track a bit, Donaldson would mutter something under his breath and then take up his position to repeat the exercise.
After about 30 minutes of this, the pregame infield workout at Rogers Centre on Wednesday was over.
Donaldson went over and gave Rivera a fist bump, collected his gatherings and then stopped by in the Toronto Blue Jays dugout where he more or less pronounced himself close to fighting trim.
The left-calf tightness that landed the Blue Jays' most important player on the disabled list and kept him out of a seventh straight game against the New York Yankees on Wednesday night has almost vanished, the third baseman said during an interview.
And while he said there are no guarantees, he is eyeballing a return to the lineup on Friday in the second game of a fourgame home set against the Baltimore Orioles.
"Everything felt pretty good," Donaldson said brightly. "Today was a little better with the running. We were doing some running and stuff inside and I felt like every day it's getting a little better.
"And right now, I feel like we're on target - I'm guessing it's the second game against Baltimore, that's what I'm hearing."
It is about the only whiff of good news the Blue Jays have had to celebrate of late as they continue what appears to be an irreversible slide out of the playoff picture just as the month of June is starting to get going.
"It's tough, man, when things aren't going your way and you have a lot of different areas you're scuffling at different times, sometimes at the same time," Donaldson said. "You just got to try and stay positive, kind of try to drown out the noise of what is going on."
What is going on - or isn't, depending on your perspective - is a 26-34 Blue Jays record heading into Wednesday's series finale against the Yankees, who took the opener of the two-game set 7-2 on Tuesday.
Toronto has now gone 31 consecutive games without winning two straight, their longest such stretch since 1999.
Toronto began the day on Wednesday in fourth place in the American League East, 15½ games back of the front-running Boston Red Sox.
For Donaldson, who is hoping to cash in on a lucrative contract at the end of the season when he will become a free agent, things also could not have gone much worse.
This is his second stint on the DL this season after missing 18 games earlier with a rather mysterious inflammation issue in his throwing (right) shoulder.
He has come nowhere close to approaching the offensive stride he enjoyed in 2015 when he was named the AL mostvaluable player in his first season with the Blue Jays.
While his play is undoubtedly costing him money heading into free agency, Donaldson insists it does not make his frustrations any worse than they already are with the way the team continues to struggle.
"I mean, every year has been important to me," he said. "Whatever the future holds, I'm not controlling that. I can only control what I can do and that's why I come back here, preparing and working as hard as I can and try to be the best teammate I possibly can be."
And while many outsiders have already bailed on Toronto's chances of being relevant in a playoff hunt before the 2018 season is said and done, Donaldson is not one of them.
"Momentum is a powerful thing in the game of baseball," Donaldson declared.
The most important factor, he said, is for the Blue Jays to remain in a positive frame of mind, even as the losses continue to mount and the public begins to clamour for a tear down.
"We as players have to kind of drown that out and be professional about what we're doing and try to get better," he said.
"The fact of the matter is, it's a privilege to be able to wear a major-league uniform and the only way you can continue to get to wear one is to be productive and to help the ball team win at all cost."
Back in 2012, when Donaldson was just establishing his credentials as an everyday player in Oakland, the A's trailed the firstplaced Texas Rangers by 13 games on June 30, with a record of 37-42.
They ended up winning the AL West with an overall mark of 94-68.
"So it can be done," Donaldson said.
Josh Donaldson throws to first to record an out against the Angels in late May, days before he went on the DL for the second time this season.
FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS