In 2018, Donaldson played only 52 times over the course of a 162-game schedule because of a recurring calf injury. The third baseman came back so strongly in 2019 – with 37 home runs, 96 runs and 94 RBIs in 155 games with the Atlanta Braves – that he won the National League Comeback Player of the Year awards presented by The Sporting News, MLB Players Association and Major League Baseball.
The comeback also earned Donaldson a four-year, $92 million contract with the Minnesota Twins. But in the abbreviated 60-game 2020 MLB season, Donaldson played in only 28 games and missed the postseason because of calf injuries.
“I wish I was a robot, and I wish I could be 100 percent and tell you that I’m great,” Donaldson said as Minnesota began full-team workouts in spring training last week. “But at the end of the day, it’s a sport, and it’s a pretty fast sport, and sometimes things happen.”
In an attempt to keep certain things from happening, Donaldson is making fundamental changes, such as in the way he runs.
“I’ve really used my foot and calf as kind of the gas for me to go,” Donaldson said. “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.
“At the same time, it’s difficult. … I’ve fallen into some bad patterns from prior injuries.”
Even with Donaldson’s injuries, Minnesota posted the second-best record in the American League and won the Central Division in 2020. The Twins won the Central with 101 victories in 2019
“Everybody is exuberant about being here,” Donaldson said. “Everybody sees the potential we have as a ballclub. I mean, I feel great about the team.”
Minnesota opened its Grapefruit League schedule on Sunday with a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox in South Fort Myers, Florida. Donaldson did not play in the game.
The Twins start the regular season on April 1, when they visit the Milwaukee Brewers for an interleague game.
In 1,066 MLB regular-season games, Donaldson has hit 225 homes runs with a .272 batting average, .369 on-base average and .508 slugging percentage.
Donaldson was the American League Most Valuable Player in 2015, the middle of his three seasons as an AL All-Star. Donaldson finished fourth in the AL MVP voting in 2013 and 2016 and eighth in 2014.
Before becoming a first-round draft choice as a catcher at Auburn, Donaldson earned All-State recognition in football and baseball at Faith Academy in Mobile.
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.