MILWAUKEE – Third baseman Josh Donaldson has been doing some running as well as getting plenty of swings in the batting cage, but his return to action remains a ways away.
Donaldson on Monday missed his 10th game because of a right calf injury, the type of injury that, manager Rocco Baldelli said, can’t be pushed. He has to be able to explode out of the batter’s box to run and react to ground balls hit his way. Given his history with the injury — he missed long stretches of time in 2017 and ’18 because of injuries to both calf muscles — the Twins remain cautious.
“This is a guy who is an explosive defender,” Baldelli said of Donaldson, who signed a four-year, $92 million deal to join the Twins in January, a club-record contract for a free agent. “We know what kind of hitter he is. But he’s a guy who has that acceleration and has that excellent first step. For him to go out there and try to play with anything less than that, I don’t know if it’s possible, for one, because it’s a calf injury.
“It’s not something like, you have a sore quad, you might be able to go out there and continue to play.”
The Twins could use a spark any way they can get one right now. Perhaps even from the presence of a stone-faced backup player such as the popular Willians Astudillo.
Astudillo, like Sano, tested positive for coronavirus during the intake phase. But while Sano was asymptomatic, Astudillo experienced some symptoms and was not cleared to begin workouts until the last week of July.
Astudillo has made progress while working out with other Twins reserves at the St. Paul Saints’ CHS Field. And Baldelli said Astudillo is getting close to the point where he could contribute.
“I think Willi is getting very close to that point,” Baldelli said. “We’ve discussed him obviously. We’ve discussed him a pretty good amount. He’s also still coming back, so I think we’re seeing a lot of trends throughout baseball showing that with the short ramp-ups, it is hard.
“The game is difficult and for anyone to just kind of wake up and get off of the couch or their bed after dealing with COVID and everything related to that, expecting him to just show up and in a week to 10 days being ready to go, I think is a tall order.”
Sano having major struggles
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Miguel Sano is a mess right now.
The burly first baseman entered Monday hitting .111 with only five hits in 45 at-bats — three home runs and two doubles — and was not in the starting lineup against Brewers righthander Adrian Houser.
Sano has 23 strikeouts in 13 games, and his 48.9% strikeout rate would top baseball if he had the qualifying amount of plate appearances. Sano admitted about a week before the delayed Opening Day that his swing was about 50% of where he wanted it to be at that point — and the first three weeks of the season have revealed how far he has to go.
Co-hitting coach Edgar Varela pointed out that Sano got a late start to the season because he tested positive for COVID-19 during the July intake phase and has been playing a little catch-up. Sano has tried to adjust how he holds his hands at the plate in order to get his bat going, but he has been late on many fastballs. Varela remains optimistic that Sano will figure out his swing.
“I think he’s really close,” Varela said.
Sano has tried to work counts into his favor. In fact, he is seeing 4.66 pitches per plate appearance, second only to Nelson Cruz on the club. But there has been little payoff so far for a batter who hit .247 with 34 home runs with 79 RBI in 105 games last season.
“Miguel Sano is key for us on our team,” second baseman Luis Arraez said. “He represents us well when he’s playing well.”
• The Twins outrighted outfielder Aaron Whitefield, who appeared in three games, off the 40-man roster. He cleared waivers and was removed from the 60-man player pool, ending his season. They added righthander Casey Lawrence, who spent 2019 in Japan, to the reserve camp at CHS Field.
• The Negro Leagues were hatched 100 years ago in Kansas City, and the Twins will celebrate the centennial during the upcoming homestand. During their Sunday game against the Royals, the Twins will wear a Negro Leagues Centennial patch on their jerseys and have big head cutouts of Negro Leagues stars in the stands.