MINNEAPOLIS — Designated hitter Nelson Cruz returned to the Twins’ lineup on Friday night at Target Field for the first time in four games, enabling manager Rocco Baldelli to write out a lineup that contained all of his regulars except for at second base, where Marwin Gonzalez started for the injured Luis Arraez.
That lineup, one that easily could be what the Twins planned to use for their opening game of the playoffs next Tuesday, lasted one inning. Third baseman Josh Donaldson departed before the top of the second inning because of a cramp in his right calf and was replaced by Ehire Adrianza in Minnesota’s 7-2 loss at Target Field.
This injury is nothing new for the former AL MVP and that makes it a big-time concern for the Twins. Donaldson already missed 30 games this season because of a right calf strain suffered in late July. He entered Friday hitting .225/.376/.475 with six homers and 11 RBIs in 27 games and popped to second in his only at-bat in the bottom of the first inning.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli lifted Donaldson in the 10th inning of the Twins’ 5-4 win over the Tigers on Tuesday for pinch-runner Jake Cave to start the inning. Donaldson did not appear to be running at normal speed when he grounded into a double play to end the bottom of the ninth and there was some thought he might have aggravated the calf problem nearly making a great play at third base in the top of the ninth. Baldelli downplayed any issue after Tuesday’s game, saying the Twins simply wanted the speedier Cave to run.
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Baldelli said that Donaldson told him Friday that the calf had cramped up on him. “That’s enough,” Baldelli said. “As soon as you here something like that, (Adrianza) knew he was going into the game. We got AD in there.”
Donaldson missed 38 games because of a right calf strain while with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017, but still hit .270/.385/.559 with 33 home runs and 78 RBIs in 113 games that season. However, his 2018 season, split between the Blue Jays and Cleveland, was derailed by injuries, including right shoulder inflammation and a left calf strain. He played 36 games with Toronto and 16 after being traded to Cleveland on Aug. 31. Earlier this season in an Instagram post, Donaldson acknowledged that he’s torn “both of my calves a total of seven times in two years.”
Donaldson joined Atlanta last season as a free agent and hit .259/.379/.521 with 37 home runs and 94 RBIs in 155 games. That earned him NL Comeback Player of the Year honors. The 34-year-old signed a four-year, $92 million free agent contract with the Twins this offseason.
After being presented with the Comeback Player of the Year award before the Twins played the Cardinals in July at Target Field, Donaldson posted about his calf issues on Instagram. “Special thanks to (Arizona Cardinals wide receiver) Larry Fitzgerald for getting me in touch with Dr. Josh Sandell whom after three days of working with me had me running pain free after tearing both of my calves a total of seven times in two years,” Donaldson wrote.
Donaldson wasn’t the only Twins player lost in Friday’s game. Center fielder Byron Buxton was hit in the head by a pitch from Reds reliever Lucas Sims leading off the eighth inning and suffered what the Twins termed a head contusion. The team also was running concussion tests on Buxton but there was no immediate update.
“I don’t know that anything that happened today is going to be something that keeps our guys off the field for very long,” Baldelli said. “(We’ll) stay on the careful side for the rest of the regular season. I think that’s a possibility, too. I don’t know enough about either Josh or Buck right now to say anything. … We would love to have our group out there on the field and playing over the next couple of days, obviously. We’re still playing. Hopefully, we’ll play to win the division as well. But the health of our players is going to come first and foremost and trying to get ready for the playoffs as well. It’s a balance, as we’ve said, amongst all those things, but we’re going to evaluate them first and start there.”