CLEVELAND -- Josh Donaldson was in search of a way to expedite a rehab process that had been frustrating, prolonged and included setbacks. Roughly two weeks before the Indians acquired the third baseman from the Blue Jays, Donaldson flew to Minneapolis in search of another opinion about his left calf
CLEVELAND -- Josh Donaldson was in search of a way to expedite a rehab process that had been frustrating, prolonged and included setbacks. Roughly two weeks before the Indians acquired the third baseman from the Blue Jays, Donaldson flew to Minneapolis in search of another opinion about his left calf issues.
The mid-August trip was to consult with Dr. Josh Sandell, who is a sports medicine specialist for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Sandell came at the recommendation of Donaldson's good friend, NFL wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Donaldson said he and the soft-tissue specialist discussed integrating some different approaches to the third baseman's schedule.
"Two days after I saw him, that was the first time I was able to start running, and I ran my longest distance while accelerating probably without any pain," said Donaldson.
Donaldson was in Friday's lineup for Cleveland as the designated hitter, marking the first of three consecutive games for the third baseman, barring anything unexpected. Since activating Donaldson from the disabled list on Sept. 11 -- following the Aug. 31 trade with Toronto -- the Indians have been building in off-days in an effort to build his endurance up for everyday work in the playoffs.
There have been some good tests for Donaldson in recent days. In the ninth inning of Wednesday's walk-off win over the White Sox, he legged out an infield single on a dribbler in front of the plate. During Tuesday's victory against Chicago, Donaldson hustled from first to home on a second-inning double by Melky Cabrera.
So far, Donaldson has passed every physical test presented in workouts and games.
"I've felt great with it," Donaldson said. "The more positive reps that I can continue to gain, the more trust in that I'll continue to have. I haven't opened it up 100 percent yet on the basepaths, but I'm sure that'll come with time."
Offensively, Donaldson has had a lot of loud outs since joining the Tribe, but he was just 3-for-18 with one homer in his first seven games for his new club, entering Friday's tilt with the Red Sox. He said he feels that his pitch recognition has been strong and his timing is coming along, too. Heading into this weekend series, Donaldson had seven hard-hit balls (95-plus mph) out of 14 balls in play with the Indians, per Statcast™.
"It's not easy," said Indians manager Terry Francona, referring to a player finding an offensive rhythm after missing multiple months. "That's why we're trying to play him enough, without playing him too much -- so he has the best chance to have the best timing he can have."
Donaldson said he feels close to full strength physically, though, and he credits Sandell for playing a large role in that process.
After initially being sidelined in late May, Donaldson sustained a severe setback while fielding ground balls at Toronto's spring complex in Florida. After meeting with Sandell, the third baseman made changes to his diet to aid in the recovery process. Donaldson noted that the doctor also used stroke therapy (techniques typically for stroke victims) in helping treat the third baseman's injury.
"He's pretty innovative," Donaldson said. "[He does things] to help guys kind of gain back muscular function and nervous-system function throughout the process. ... What he was able to do was kind of re-hardwire my nervous system while using this type of therapy, to where I could start moving and running and stuff more freely and more naturally."
The hope now is that Donaldson will only be focusing on the games -- rather than any rehab work -- by the time October arrives.
"It's been very easy for me to kind of come in and fit in," Donaldson said. "And, hopefully, [I can] help this team to accomplish its end goal."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.