Welcome sight: Donaldson back in uniform

March 11th, 2017
Josh Donaldson fielded grounders and took batting practice Saturday. He said he plans to let his calf "heal up completely" before returning to game action. (AP)

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- In full uniform for the first time since being sidelined by a strained calf early in camp, Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson fielded grounders and took batting practice on the main field at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on Saturday.

When he was done -- and after spending about 45 minutes signing autographs for the fans who lined the low fence down the first-base line -- he said he feels "great" and that he should be ready to play in his first Grapefruit League game sometime next week.

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"It's pretty much the same thing I've been doing [on the back fields] the last four or five days, except I did it with the team today," he said. "It feels great. I'm probably 40, 50 percent running right now and obviously it's got to get to the point where I can run 100 percent. And I feel like, hopefully, that should be sometime next week, just the way that it's progressing now."

If the Blue Jays were playing crucial games down the stretch, the 2015 American League MVP said, he could play now. But it makes more sense to proceed with caution.

"I could manage it. But there's no need to manage it at this moment," he said. "Might as well let it heal up completely before I get out on the field. But I'm able to go through a lot of baseball activities, minus the full-speed running.

"I want to be out there with the guys. I enjoy playing the game of baseball. So any time my teammates are out there playing I want to be out there. But we've got to look at the bigger picture here. Everybody knows it's a 162-game schedule and I want to be healthy for the entire season."

He added that he doesn't think he'll need many at-bats under game conditions to be ready for the regular season.

"Defensively, I felt really nice," he said. "The last couple days I've been able to make some plays and some more quality throws on my right leg. And I felt really good with it today."

Donaldson's health is clearly a key for the Blue Jays. He's been an All-Star each of the last three years and last season he finished fourth in the MVP voting after hitting .284 with 37 homers, 99 RBIs and a .953 OPS. So the probability that he'll be back in the lineup in a week is getting a lot of attention.

"That's the plan as of right now," he said. "I don't know a specific day, but when they believe me to be 100 percent ready, then I'll be out there."