MINNEAPOLIS — Before Josh Donaldson returned to the Twins lineup, the third baseman and team were discussing how they can keep him there.
The Twins’ marquee off-season acquisition, Donaldson was activated from the injured list Wednesday and played his first game in more than a month against the Chicago White Sox at Target Field.
“Everything feels great,” Donaldson said. “I’m excited to get out there today.”
The question is how to keep him there the rest of the short season. The 2015 American League MVP with Toronto, Donaldson missed 30 games while on the injured list with a right-calf strain. It was the fourth time in 11 seasons he had spent time on the disabled list because of strains in each of his calf muscles.
Part of it, manager Rocco Baldelli said, could be occasionally using Donaldson as a designated hitter, but the Twins have one of the best in Nelson Cruz, and Donaldson is a good defensive third baseman.
“Whenever he’s feeling good, I’d say he’s going to be out there,” Baldelli said. “But on a rare day when Nelly may not be out there, I think JD could. I think that’s also a conversation to have with JD because some guys actually do enjoy that and thrive in that role, and some guys don’t.”
Donaldson said Wednesday he was injured while backhanding a grounder early in a 4-1 victory over Cleveland on July 31. That was the day the Twins had to go through extensive COVID-19 testing because the St. Louis Cardinals reported getting positive tests during a two-game series in Minneapolis.
As a result, Donaldson said, he didn’t get much time to prepare for the game. In hindsight, he said, he should have told the team he wasn’t physically ready to play.
That, he said, is why he and the team made sure he was ready to return Wednesday.
“I would say this goes back to what I’ve learned, and where (before) I would have really tried to influence and put myself into the lineup, I’m trying to take some of my own ego out of it and take down some of the competitiveness of, ‘Hey, we need to go out there now,’ ” he said. “I’m trying to take everybody’s perspective to really harness that and say, ‘What’s going to be best not just for myself but for the team?’ ”
The Twins seem to need Donaldson, who has averaged 39 home runs and 98 RBIs in his past five full seasons. Without him, Minnesota’s lineup — among the top two offensive teams in nearly every category last season — has been average at best, 14th in hits (288), 18th in runs (162) and 19th in batting average (.240).
The Twins started Wednesday’s game 1.5 games behind the White Sox and Cleveland in the AL Central. Starting with a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers on Friday, they’ll have 22 regular-season games left.
“I would say that we’re going to have a plan (for Donaldson) going forward,” Baldelli said. “Is that plan rigid in every way? Of course not. We’re going to continue to watch Josh.”
Max Kepler was replaced in right field after beating out an infield single in the second inning Wednesday. He later scored. The Twins said he had tightness in his left groin.
Catcher Alex Avila was a late scratch Wednesday because of tightness in his lower back. The Twins are calling his status day-to-day. His absence leaves the Twins with one catcher, rookie Ryan Jeffers. Starter Mitch Garver is on the injured list with a pulled muscle near his right rib cage.
To make room on the 28-man roster for Donaldson, the Twins designated infielder Ildemaro Vargas for release or assignment. Vargas, acquired via trade with Arizona on Aug. 11, appeared in 10 games for the Twins, hitting .227 (5 for 22) with one double, one triple, two RBIs and one walk.
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi had what the Twins called a successful bullpen outing Wednesday and is on track with his rehab from a bruised chest, suffered when he was hit by a come-backer Aug. 21 at Kansas City.