Yankees' Josh Donaldson works on process, gets big results
SARASOTA, Fla. — The new left side of the Yankees’ infield is off to a good start.
That doesn't mean much, but still, success beats the alternative.
And so, one day after shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa made his exhibition debut by going 2-for-3 in Bradenton against the Pirates, third baseman Josh Donaldson homered in his debut, hitting a monstrous shot to left that nearly left Ed Smith Stadium in a 3-3 tie (after nine innings) with the Orioles.
"Been putting in some work since I've been here, getting some live ABs. It was nice to hit a ball hard, obviously," Donaldson said. "But, you know, I'm working on things right now to prepare me for the season. Not really too focused on results at this point. Just kind of more worried about the process and how I'm going about it."
Donaldson, who grounded out softly in his first at-bat, ripped the homer off Garrett Farmer in the third. He was the first batter the righthander faced after replacing lefty Ryan Hartman, who had just surrendered a two-run homer to designated hitter David Freitas.
"Early in spring training, I want to really focus on getting ready to hit and being able to trust my eyes to say no [to a pitch]," Donaldson said. "And as you can see today, I was kind of coming out swinging and trying to work through some of those at-bats. My first at-bat, I felt like I was able to see a lot of pitches. And I think that helped me for the second one."
Because of his age (36) and injury history — Donaldson played in only 28 of the 60 games in the COVID-shortened 2020 season because of calf issues and battled a hamstring problem at times last season, though he played in 135 games — the Yankees will have to manage his workload. He understands he’ll get some days at DH but, like most players of his caliber, prefers to play both sides.
"I like to be on the field," he said. "I don't mind DHing if I feel like I need a day [off] or something like that to where I can still help the ballclub [by putting] some at-bats up there. But for the most part, I like to play the game and be involved."
Donaldson came to the Yankees last Sunday night along with Kiner-Falefa and backup catcher Ben Rortvedt in the deal that sent Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela to Minnesota.
Though there are questions surrounding the 26-year-old Kiner-Falefa’s bat, few questions surround Donaldson, other than his health. The 2015 AL MVP continues to produce when he can stay on the field consistently. Last season with the Twins, even with the hamstring issue cropping up now and then, Donaldson hit .247 with 26 homers and an .827 OPS.
"He's still super-dynamic," Aaron Boone said. "You watch him take BP, you watch him take ground balls, and it's . . . I know he's 36 or whatever, but he's still a beast. And the biggest thing for him is going to be if he's healthy, he’s still a high-end player. That’s been apparent to me these first few days."
Though Donaldson is best known for his offense, he has been considered a plus defender during his career, something Boone, a former big-league third baseman himself, has always noticed.
"That he’s still a really good defender, I think, is a tribute to he's really good in his pre-pitch prep to get himself into position to be fielding," Boone said. "And so much, and especially in the infield, especially at third base, is that ability to be in a good position when the ball is entering the hitting zone, which is a huge factor in range, and he still has that. We saw it playing against him last year, he made a number of really good plays against us, but you see that in his work, just how efficient he is and how well he moves low to the ground."