MILWAUKEE — The Minnesota Twins left Fort Myers, Fla., on Tuesday happy after getting through spring training with all of their major leaguers healthy. It took just a few minutes into their season for the Twins to have their first injury scare.
The Twins and Josh Donaldson had spent all offseason and spring working on crafting ways to keep the 35-year-old former MVP on the field. When healthy, Donaldson can carry a team.
The problem is, Donaldson hasn’t been healthy for most of his tenure with the Twins, so when he rounded first and took a little hop on his way to second base in the first inning, there was concern that he might have injured one of his calves. Both have given him issues in past seasons, forcing him off the field.
Manager Rocco Baldelli said the Twins have no reason to believe Donaldson is dealing with anything calf-related, but they did pull him from the game before he was able to take the field for the bottom of the first and said he is dealing with right hamstring tightness. The Twins plan to get him in to American Family Field on their off day Friday, and they will re-evaluate him then.
“Obviously there has to be some concern, but we’ll wait and see until we know a little bit more to comment further,” Baldelli said.
Earlier in the day, Baldelli had talked about monitoring Donaldson’s workload, perhaps letting him play for two days and then giving him an off day or a routine similar to that at the beginning of the year as they eased him into action.
Donaldson, understanding of the plan, said Wednesday he would still like to play as often as possible but what would determine if his season was successful or not was if he was able to make it through “relatively unscathed.”
He’s already facing a challenge to that a day later.
“The thought is to make sure he’s ready to go for the full season. That’s the priority here,” Baldelli said before the game. “The priority is keeping Josh on the field. If Josh Donaldson is healthy for the entire year, and continually takes the field for us, I think we’re going to be really good.”
Arraez leads off
The Twins might not know where Luis Arraez will be playing in the field on any given day — though if Donaldson’s hamstring keeps him out of action for a while, he’ll likely see plenty of time at third base — but they do know where they’d like him to hit.
Arraez was atop the Twins’ lineup on Thursday, with Max Kepler hitting fifth. Expect to see more of that throughout the season. It paid dividends on Thursday with Arraez going 2-for-5 with a walk.
Arraez entered the 2021 season with a .390 career on-base percentage to Kepler’s .319, and moving Arraez up and Kepler down was something late bench coach Mike Bell had been a proponent of, Baldelli said. The two had a conversation about just that fairly recently before Bell passed away from kidney cancer on March 26.
“It was something he felt strongly about,” Baldelli said of Bell. “He felt Kep was a guy that could hit really anywhere near the top of the lineup against right-handers, but could drive in some runs and put him in a more prominent middle-of-the-order spot and we might see some really good things. And he’s always been a big fan of Luis in the leadoff spot, too. I think that was something else that factored in, in a pretty major way.”
Kepler shines at plate
Any concerns of Kepler’s slow spring ended promptly on Thursday. Those concerns certainly weren’t coming from Baldelli, who maintained all spring that he thought Kepler would be just fine despite hitting .070 this spring.
After Kepler had three hits in 15 games this spring, he had three on Thursday alone, hitting a single, double and triple in the Twins’ loss.
“We talked a lot about this is another one of those tests on the meaning of spring training at-bats and things like that. Kep’s a good hitter, and that’s all it comes down to,” Baldelli said. “Kep’s a really good major-league offensive player and defensive player. I didn’t hesitate in any way to put him right in the middle of the lineup where he belongs and let him go out and do his thing. He had a nice day today.”