With playoff baseball right around the corner, cleveland.com is taking a look at the biggest issues facing Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians. As the 2018 regular season winds down, the answers to these questions will reveal whether or not the Tribe is Ready for October.
CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Indians took a gamble when they traded for Toronto’s Josh Donaldson on Aug. 31. He not only hadn’t played in a big-league game since May 28 because of an injury to his left calf, but they had to reconfigure their lineup to make him fit.
On top of that they didn’t give themselves much room for error. First, they put him back on the disabled list right after the deal – drawing the ire of teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox – with the idea of turning him loose over the last several games of the regular season.
Well, the time to unchain the 2015 AL MVP has arrived. Donaldson started at DH Friday night in a 7-5 loss to Boston and he’s scheduled to start at third base on Saturday and Sunday nights, the final two regular-season home games. The Indians will play the last seven games of the season on the road against the White Sox and Royals before an all-but-guaranteed ALDS matchup against Houston.
Was it a risky proposition to rent Donaldson, a free agent at the end of the year, for a month and change? Probably. But it’s obvious management felt the offense needed a jolt. So, Donaldson takes over at third base, pushes Jose Ramirez to second, who pushes Jason Kipnis to center, who pushes Greg Allen and/or Rajai Davis to the bench or off the ALDS roster.
One could read the tea leaves this way – Donaldson is a potential offensive upgrade over Kipnis, while Kipnis offers more offense, but less defense, than Allen or Davis in center field. And just maybe, the move awakens Ramirez from a slump that has lasted for more than a month and cost him a chance at the AL MVP award.
Donaldson, to date, has shown his calf injury is behind him. On Tuesday against the White Sox, he walked and scored from first on a double by Melky Cabrera. On Wednesday, he opened the ninth inning by beating out a dribbler down the third-base line to help set the stage for a game-winning grand slam by Kipnis.
Defensively, he’s played well, making skidding stops and strong throws across the diamond.
Friday night against Boston, he reached on an infield single and homered off left-hander Chris Sale. It was second homer since the trade, both against lefties, but he’s hitting just .217 (5-for-23) with two RBI with the Indians.
Donaldson says he feels good at the plate.
“I haven’t had the results you look for, but I’ve hit some balls hard,” he said. “As long as my approach and how I’m seeing the ball, my pitch recognition, is up to par there’s not much more I can ask for. The more consistently I can do that, the more success I’ll have.”
Overall, Donaldson is hitting .231 (37-for-160) with 11 doubles, seven homers and 18 RBI in 44 games this year.
“I think he gets more dangerous, the more he plays,” said manager Terry Francona. “You know, playing all weekend will be really good for him. And regardless of what his batting average is when this is over, if he shows up in the playoffs and he’s that threat, that guy who takes those consistent swings, that will be good for us.”
Donaldson said he had to recover from not one, but two calf injuries. Shortly after his rehab began in May with Toronto, he said he reinjured the calf. Donaldson said a conversation with his friend, Arizona Cardinal wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, put him in touch with Dr. Josh Sandell, a sports medicine specialist for the Minnesota Vikings.
“He took me to the next step where I could get back on the field and start moving without pain,” said Donaldson. “Initially when I went on the DL I thought it would be very minor. When I started doing my rehab in Florida, I ended up having a pretty significant injury to my calf while I was doing a rehab assignment.
“So, to continue to go out there now without pain, to be able to move, and move freely, is a huge step in the right direction for me. To continue to do that on an everyday basis is important.”
About two weeks before Toronto traded him to the Indians, Donaldson saw Dr. Sandell for the first time.
“Two days after I saw him, that was the first time I was able to start running and I ran my farthest distances without pain.”
Donaldson spent almost four years in Toronto. He captured the imagination of Blue Jay fans because of his swagger, power and hustle. His stay did not end well. He said if he was writing a book, it’s not the way he would have written the last chapter.
Now Donaldson has a chance to write a new ending with a new team headed to the postseason. He’ll have to pound it out because he’s on a deadline, but it could still make for a good read.
More Ready for October posts:
Is Jason Kipnis the Tribe’s best option in center?
Who should be the Tribe’s 4 starting pitchers in the ALDS?
Does Terry Francona plan to rest starters down the stretch?
Will the Tribe get vintage Andrew Miller for its playoff push?