OAKLAND -- Josh Donaldson plays like he’s still working with house money, but soon he may find that he’s been at it long enough to know how to play with his own.
As Oakland’s everyday third baseman, Donaldson has had the kind of year that would be noticed far more if he didn’t share the position and the league with Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Manny Machado and Adrian Beltre. Monday, he made a diving stop to foil a Buster Posey base hit, and in the bottom of that inning hit a two-run homer to power Los Elefantes to a 4-1 win over the Giants.
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It was a 2-0 fastball from Madison Bumgarner that Donaldson figured was coming. “I know he’d just walked (Yoenis) Cespedes and was having a little trouble finding the zone, so I just thought he’d try to challenge me.”
Bumgarner did. Donaldson thought through the probabilities and powered his eighth home run of the season over the right-center field wall. Just another day in the new life of Joshua Adam Donaldson.
And yes, new life, because he’s already had two of the old ones. His slash line of .324/.397/.553 is among the best in the American League, and by all accounts he is grasping this everyday player thing about as well as can be expected.
And as his manager, Bob Melvin explained, it may either be because he was sent down twice last year to cure his difficulties, or despite it. Melvin isn’t sure yet.
“I talked to guys individually and as a team about the second year,” Melvin said after the A’s ninth win in 10 games, “and I’ve talked to him a couple of times. To me, it takes a whole season . . . two, really . . . before you should be comfortable with the idea of being an everyday player.”
That said, the A’s decided back in spring that Donaldson would be their everyday third baseman, because he was the best of the team’s available choices. He had struggled at the start of the 2012 season, sent down after going 3-for-32, and again June 13 when he had raised his average to .153.
But the third time up, August 14, was something of a charm, because at that point everything about the A’s was charmed. He somehow managed to forget those 15 hits in 98 at-bats and his .395 OPS, and became a fully contributing member of the A’s race to unexpected glory, hitting .290 and solidifying what had been a problem position since Eric Chavez stopped being healthy in 2005.
But in the roughly half season he has played since being recalled, he has become part of a crowded field of excellent American League third basemen. He is a .308 hitter in the 364 at-bats he has had, has a better eye (25 walks so far, after only 14 in his three stays last year), and has missed only one game.
In other words, he would be part of the AL All-Star discussion under normal circumstances. These are not normal circumstances, though, and he would be probably be better off not thinking about it as the next signpost in his career.
“I hope that wouldn’t affect his confidence,” Melvin said, “because part of making the All-Star team is who’s around you, and that’s a pretty crowded field he’s in.”
In fairness, Cabrera blots out the sun with his play, but Longoria and Beltre are perennials, and Machado is about there as well. Donaldson gets full marks for merging successfully into the fast lane, but the test is whether he can stay there without people honking at him.
“He’s really helped in a lot of ways, because we can just put him in the lineup every day and not worry about it,” Melvin said. “But like I said, he’s just starting. He’s hungry, and he’s competitive, so that’s going to help a lot. The guys who have sophomore slumps are the ones who miss one of those, but he’s just let his talent come forth.”
And it’s not unfair to insert the caveat “so far,” because that’s the accurate assessment. But Josh Donaldson is no longer the .094 hitter or the .153 hitter of yesteryear . . . well, yesterJune, if truth be told. He’s an everyday player in Oakland, and is pointed in a direction in which he can start thinking in those terms as a career descriptor as well.
He just needs another year and a half, is all.