MINNEAPOLIS — Twins manager Rocco Baldelli remained optimistic Saturday about Josh Donaldson’s status and how long the tightness in the veteran’s right calf might keep sidelined. Donaldson, who removed himself from Friday’s game in the second inning, isn’t expect to go on the injured list for now, according to Baldelli, and remains day-to-day.
But as you can read here the 34-year-old Donaldson is no stranger to calf problems and missed extensive time in 2017 and 2018 with an injury that can have a tendency to linger. The problem with the 2020 season — assuming it doesn’t get wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic — is that there isn’t much time for recovery. The Twins entered Saturday night’s game against Cleveland at Target Field having played seven of their 60 scheduled regular-season games.
Donaldson was not in the lineup, replaced by veteran utilityman Marwin Gonzalez. Ehire Adrianza pinch hit for Donaldson on Friday in the Twins’ 4-1 victory over Cleveland and remained in the game at third base.
Baldelli might be optimistic about Donaldson, but this is a team that also will not rush a player back into the lineup until they are sure he’s healthy. The Twins made a four-year, $92 million free agent investment in Donaldson last offseason — the most they have ever spent to bring in an outside free agent — and one would think they aren’t going to take any chances with his long-term health. Especially since Donaldson recently posted on Instagram that he tore both of his calves a combined seven times in only two years.
Donaldson’s 2018 season was derailed by right shoulder inflammation and a left calf strain and he played in only 52 games in splitting the year between Toronto and Cleveland. He was out from May 29 to Sept. 11 because of the calf issue. Donaldson, the 2015 American League MVP, bounced back last year to hit.259/.379/.521 with 37 home runs and 94 RBIs in 155 games with Atlanta. That earned him NL Comeback Player of the Year honors.
That’s the player the Twins want to make sure they get. So what are their options if they elect to remain cautious with Donaldson, or he’s simply sidelined for an extended period?
Gonzalez has the ability to play all over the place and spent time at third base in 40 of the 114 games in which he appeared in 2019. Adrianza played at six different positions in 2019 and made a season-high 24 appearances at third base and shortstop, respectively. There is one more option but it’s not what you’re thinking. Second baseman Luis Arraez made 15 starts and appeared in 17 games at third base last year, and Baldelli sounded Saturday as if he is willing to put Arraez in the mix at third.
What about Miguel Sano, who moved from third to first base in spring training to accommodate Donaldson? It sounds as if the Twins are going to keep him focused on playing first base. That’s probably the smart move given Sano’s future appears to be at that spot. The Twins also likely wanted Sano to focus on getting his timing at the plate entering Saturday. Sano, who missed much of summer camp after being sidelined by COVID-19, had been 1-for-17 with eight strikeouts entering the game. But after getting Friday off, Sano crushed the ball to left-center and then left in his first two at-bats for home runs. The solo shots helped give the Twins a 3-0 victory over Cleveland.
“As far as first base and third base, we’re going to let Miguel get comfortable with everything going on at first base, as opposed to splitting his attention in any way,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We want to make sure he continues to get his work in and he stays focused over there, which he has been. And as we’ve talked about, he’s been great over there.”
Baldelli went on to say that “we’re going to let Arraez maybe even get some time over there at third base and fill in for (Adrianza).”
The Twins did make one roster move Saturday before they played host to Cleveland in the third game of their four-game series. Righthanded reliever Zack Littell went on the 10-day injured list because of a left hamstring injury. The move was made retroactive to Friday.
Littell made two relief appearances in the first seven games and gave up four runs on six hits in three innings. He walked three and struck out one. The Twins summoned 25-year-old righthander Jorge Alcala to put on their 30-man roster. Alcala is among the camp of Twins prospects who have been working out at the Saints’ facility in St. Paul.
Alcala pitched 1.2 innings with the Twins in two appearances last season. He spent most of 2019 with Double-A Pensacola and Triple-A Rochester, going 6-7 with a 5.47 ERA with 39 walks and 116 strikeouts in 31 games and 16 starts.