FORT MYERS, Fla. – Anyone who has ever heard Josh Donaldson break down every last detail of his swing mechanics — from balance profile to head tilt to stride phase — knows how much he must relish solving the conundrum of his injury-prone calves.
Basically, the Twins third baseman intends to develop a better way to run.
"I've really used my foot and calf as kind of the gas for me to go. [Now I'll] really focus on trying to get more hip drive, using my hips to accelerate through the movements, to where it can take pressure off my calves," Donaldson said with the air of a physiology professor. "At the same time, it's difficult. … I've fallen into some bad patterns from prior injuries."
The Twins had their first full-squad workout Tuesday at the CenturyLink Sports Complex, with 71 of the 75 players present. Three players, including new shortstop Andrelton Simmons, have visa issues; lefthanded starter J.A. Happ is in COVID-19 protocols.
As players begin the five-plus week process of getting ready for the April 1 opener in Milwaukee, keen attention will be paid to Donaldson's regimen.
“I wish I was a robot and I wish I could be 100 percent and tell you that I'm great But it's a sport, and a pretty fast sport. And sometimes things happen.”
Having his first season with the Twins mangled by injury and limited to only 28 games, just two seasons after a similar injury benched him for three months, then finding himself sidelined for the team's brief postseason bothered the Twins' highest-paid player.
"It was tough to watch the guys. That's the first playoffs I've ever missed," Donaldson said, so he spent a solid month after it ended attacking the problem. He worked to restore the strength in his legs, while making sure to protect his mobility. He made sure the calves healed properly, and tested those new running mechanics.
He comes to his second Twins camp completely healthy again, but is wary of declaring himself healed.
"I wish I was a robot and I wish I could be 100 percent and tell you that I'm great," he said with a shrug. "But it's a sport, and a pretty fast sport. And sometimes things happen."
One way to make them happen less often might be to play him less often, or so manager Rocco Baldelli is believed to be contemplating. Baldelli is a believer that quality beats quantity, that a healthy player five times a week is more valuable than a hobbled one playing every day.
Even as Baldelli admired the shape and agility of his team's second-oldest player (behind 40-year-old Nelson Cruz) — "Josh looks great," Baldelli said of the team's defensive drills, "he makes challenging plays look easy" — he admitted he's discussed some options for keeping the 35-year-old healthy.
"We definitely have some very good ideas that will help," Baldelli said. "Josh is on board with everything that we're talking about."
Donaldson agreed, and said simply having a six-month season, rather than a nine-week drag race, will help. With only 60 games last year, each game was more important "so we were trying to push it." This year, he intends "to kind of build into getting game-ready," Donaldson said. "Your body has to get acclimated to it."
One thing he hasn't had to get acclimated to is fatherhood. Aubrey Neal was born in November to his partner Briana, "and it's been such a blessing for both of us." Hard to worry about a sore calf, after all, when your three-month-old "is going through some teething things right now," he said.
And if his home life and his baseball life are changing, his goal hasn't. Donaldson said he still sees greatness within reach of his team, even as they are just arriving in camp.
"Everybody is exuberant about being here. Everybody sees the potential we have as a ballclub," he said. "I mean, I feel great about the team. I believe in [pitching coach] Wes [Johnson], I believe in Rocco, and I believe in our front office."