CLEVELAND — It hasn’t been good of late at the plate for Josh Donaldson, and no one is more aware of that than he is.
Friday night's series opener against the Guardians at Progressive Field was postponed because of rain — the teams will play a split doubleheader on Saturday at 12:10 p.m. and 6:10 p.m. — and Donaldson will enter those games hitting .225 with six homers, 22 RBIs and a .700 OPS in 59 games.
Even after going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the Yankees’ 2-1 loss to the Astros on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park, Donaldson still saw some signs of encouragement (though not by any stretch did he think he had a good night, or that he has had many of them of late).
“I felt like I took some swings that were a little uncharacteristic for me,” he said late Thursday night. “But the second at-bat [a flyout to right], I felt like I took a good swing, just barely missed two pitches. The series before [against the A’s], I felt like I was taking some pretty good passes, started to get the ball in the air a little bit more. I’m missing some pitches, but I’m still hitting it somewhat hard. So I have to think whenever it does start to click, it will be pretty good.”
Donaldson, who hit .247 last season with the Twins but had 26 homers, 26 doubles and an .827 OPS in 135 games, entered Friday 10-for-55 (.182) with one homer, four RBIs and a .559 OPS in his last 15 games.
Because of the explosive seasons of Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton — and because Donaldson has been more than solid in the field — his inconsistency at the plate has barely registered on the concern scale.
“Donaldson’s been good,” Aaron Boone said after the loss in Houston. “[Tonight] was a little bit of a struggle — he got rung up on a bad pitch, I thought, in the one at-bat [in the sixth inning], on a couple of pitches in that at-bat — but he’s been getting his swing off for the most part. He didn’t see the ball great that last time [an eighth-inning strikeout] where he left the zone on some breaking balls. But I feel like JD’s been really close for a while now. He’s getting his hits, he’s getting his walks, he’s controlling the zone for the most part; he just hasn’t had that hot streak yet. I don’t feel like JD’s far off at all, he just hasn’t hit that stretch where it’s like, boom, boom, boom, boom. He’ll get there.”
When he’s gone through slumps in the past, Donaldson said a tell that he might be coming out of it is hitting fewer balls on the ground.
“I think the indicator for me is when I’m starting to hit more balls in the air,” he said. “I felt like for the better part of this year, I’ve kind been on top of some balls and not really out in front and in between and hitting way too many ground balls on the left side, and that’s not my M.O. And that’s not what I want to do at all. So the last couple of series, being able to get some balls up in the air, drive some balls, swing at good pitches, unlike what I did [tonight] for the most part, is a good indicator of that.”
Donaldson, who played briefly with Cleveland in 2018 (16 games total because of injuries after he was dealt there from Toronto), has enjoyed his fair share of success at Progressive Field, a ballpark he saw plenty while in the AL Central with the Twins in 2020-21. Entering the doubleheader, Donaldson has hit 12 homers and recorded an .877 OPS in 42 games.
“It’s natural when you get into some ballparks where you hit well, I think you kind of feel better about that,” Donaldson said of three games at Progressive Field possibly helping him emerge from his slump. “I think there is something to that, but at the same time, they have a good pitching staff and I have to do a better job overall.”