Yankees' Josh Donaldson, right, hits a solo home run as...

Yankees' Josh Donaldson, right, hits a solo home run as Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith watches during the second inning of a baseball game Friday, June 2, 2023, in Los Angeles. Credit: AP/Mark J. Terrill

LOS ANGELES — It would be overly dramatic to say Josh Donaldson’s future in pinstripes officially was put “on the clock” as soon as he was activated.

Though much of the fan base got angry in the offseason whenever general manager Brian Cashman or manager Aaron Boone said the club’s 2023 plans included Donaldson being the everyday third baseman, the Yankees all along thought there was something left in the former American League MVP. They wanted to see how much and how long it might last, preferably throughout 2023.

But that doesn’t mean Donaldson has season-long tenure, either. The Yankees  already have cut loose one unproductive player, Aaron Hicks, who had three years and about $30 million left on his contract (Hicks has since signed with the Orioles).

Donaldson is owed roughly $21 million this season and has a $6 million buyout for next season, money the Yankees -- who have other capable options at third to get them through the year -- certainly would be willing to eat if need be.

That need hasn’t yet arisen.

in his first game since suffering a hamstring injury April 5, Donaldson hit a pair of towering home runs Friday night in the Yankees' 8-4 loss to the Dodgers, a more than solid start to what he and the Yankees hope is a bounce-back season for the 37-year-old.  

“The guy’s been a wrecking machine his whole life,” Boone said after watching the 446- and 418-foot homers. “He’s got that skill set. He still has that power, that twitch, that bat speed. I know it’s in there.”

The Yankees felt the same way throughout a disappointing 2022  in which Donaldson hit .222 with 15 homers and a .682 OPS in 132 games. By season’s end,  he probably ranked second when it came to fan discontent (behind Hicks, of course).

Donaldson, who came to the Yankees along with Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ben Rortvedt in the 2022 spring training deal that sent Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela to Minnesota, has been around long enough to not draw any grand conclusions based on a single good night at the plate. He wouldn't have done that if he had gone 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, either.

“Today,” he said here late Friday night, “is one day.”

The issues with Donaldson have never been in the field. Even during last year’s struggles, he played third base consistently at an above-average level and at times better than that, according to rival scouts and talent evaluators.

Few work harder on the defensive side, and it was not an unusual sight during spring training to see Donaldson sweating through extra defensive work on one of the back fields at Steinbrenner Field with first base/infield coach Travis Chapman and coaching assistant Brett Weber.

“That’s some Gold Glove [expletive] there,” Chapman commented after one such session, conducted in the late morning on an 87-degree day in late February (Kiner-Falefa joined Donaldson that day).

“I think it was a mixture of a lot of minor things last year where I was off and just couldn’t get going,” Donaldson said Friday. “I put a lot of time and a lot of energy into my craft.”

Does Donaldson believe he again can be the kind of player he was when he won the American League MVP award with Toronto in 2015?

“Of course,” he said. “Obviously, it’s been frustrating not being able to play, but I can’t really do too much about that anymore. Hopefully I put my best foot forward, just being prepared and help our team win.”

He took those steps Friday.

“Definitely good to see him come out and get some results right out of the gate,” Boone said. “Hopefully that can propel him a little, because when he’s right, he’s a great player. Definitely, when you’ve been out for a while and you come back in your first game and you get results like he did, hopefully that’s something that goes a long way in getting him rolling.”

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