MINNEAPOLIS -- When a fielder is playing out of position or a young player makes his Major League debut, there’s that old saying that the ball tends to find you. Much in that same mold, the action found Josh Donaldson’s right hamstring right away.
The Twins activated the slugging third baseman between the two games of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Red Sox, and he immediately had to test that hamstring on his trip around the bases to give his team a needed early lead. But once again, he didn’t get much help from a slumping Twins offense in a 7-1 loss at Target Field that extended Minnesota’s losing streak to five games.
“Obviously we’re not playing winning baseball right now, but it feels like with the exception of this last game, we’ve had opportunities to win essentially every game we’ve played this year,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “So if we keep competing like that, I think the pieces are going to fall just fine for us.”
Donaldson singled up the middle in his first plate appearance since being activated from the injured list and had to push himself to move from first to third on Nelson Cruz’s single, sliding in just ahead of the tag. He then had to dash home on a shallow sacrifice fly to center -- and appeared no worse for the wear after touching the plate with the game’s first run.
“Honestly, I felt like [that] throughout the entire rehab process, I was running and not really thinking about it a whole lot,” Donaldson said. “I felt pretty good and confident in it, so I had some reassurance in my hamstring throughout all the exercises and stuff I was doing.”
That’s the spark the Twins were hoping for with the 2015 American League MVP Award winner’s return.
But that spark quickly fizzled. Donaldson added a walk to his line in the third, but the Twins otherwise mustered only two more hits beyond the first inning and finished the game 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, continuing a tough offensive day that began with a 3-2 loss in the first game of the doubleheader in which the Twins mustered only a two-run single by Jorge Polanco.
Polanco added a pair of hits in the second game and joined Cruz as the only Twins with multiple hits in the twin bill.
The Twins are 1-for-24 with runners in scoring position in the series.
“We’ve hit some balls on the screws. I know [Kyle] Garlick hit a ball hard today, first and third, that could have changed the game in that aspect as well,” Donaldson said. “What’s important is not only getting that hit, but it’s how many times can you continue to put your team in that position.”
That’s particularly the case now that the Twins have Donaldson back, considering how hard he was hitting the ball throughout Spring Training -- with 10 of his 19 tracked batted balls qualifying as hard-hit (in excess of 95 mph) -- and his continued solid approach at the plate upon his return. The Twins were 19-9 when Donaldson played last season and 15-15 when he didn’t.
“Today, I felt like I saw the ball pretty well,” Donaldson said. “Was able to get on base a couple of times for us, score a run. That’s kind of part of my game. And whenever I get dialed in, hopefully start driving some balls as well.”
Even with both Donaldson and Cruz (illness) back in the lineup, the Twins aren’t totally in the clear injury-wise yet. Byron Buxton was held out of a planned start in the second game of the doubleheader as a precaution due to a sore hamstring, leaving Minnesota without one of its hottest bats.
But the Twins are still making hard contact -- the Red Sox had only four more hard-hit balls than the Twins in the doubleheader, 16-12 -- and they’re confident that soon, those, too, will begin to fall.
“I think it’s probably a combination of not having quite the at-bats that we want, but when we have -- and a few times we have hit the ball hard with some people on base -- that really hasn’t played out well for us, either,” Baldelli said. “It will. I mean, the caliber of hitters that we have is just too good for that to not play out in our favor.”