Donald's injury raising questions at third

Donald's injury raising questions at third

Donald's injury raising questions at third
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jason Donald walked into the Indians' clubhouse at the player development complex on Sunday morning, his left hand wrapped and his name absent from both lineup cards hanging on the wall.

Donald was hit on the back of the hand by a pitch from White Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd more than a week ago. He made it back into the lineup briefly, only to be shut down for the past two days after irritating the injury.

"It's a little frustrating," Donald said.

The latest development adds a wrinkle to the Indians' situation at third base. Donald has appeared to be the favorite to win the vacancy at the hot corner, but Cleveland might be forced to go in another direction for Opening Day if his hand injury continues to be a problem.

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Donald missed five days last week after suffering a bruise on his hand but started against the Cubs on Friday. One day later, he entered a Cactus League contest against the Mariners and said he felt some pain during a swing. An MRI exam on Saturday revealed a bone bruise.

As a result, Donald was not permitted to play in the Tribe's exhibition game against the Padres or a "B" game against the White Sox on Sunday. It will likely be at least four or five days until he can return to game action. With less than three weeks left until Opening Day, it is not clear how many at-bats Donald can pile up.

Following Sunday's 7-2 loss to the Padres, Indians manager Manny Acta said Donald's current situation is unlikely to influence the third-base picture.

"Today is March 13," Acta said. "We have at least 18 days before the season starts. He's going to have three days without swinging the bat. Nothing has changed. We're going to have plenty of time still to run him out there and see him enough."

Donald also believes there is still plenty of time left on the Spring Training calendar.

"Really, I'm not worried," Donald said. "With the games I have played, I have a better idea now of where I'm at compared to where I've been before in the past. I think it's a whole learning curve and learning experience. That being said, you still want to get your at-bats.

"I'd really like for, when I do come back, to be going every day. I'd like to be playing every day so I can get those two, three, four at-bats every day leading into [the season] to make up for it. I'm in shape.

"Now, it's just getting that rhythm and getting that timing at the plate. And I felt like I was in a good spot before I got hit in the hand. Things were really starting to progress for me and I felt like I was making some strides."

In his six Cactus League appearances this spring, the 26-year-old Donald has hit .308 (4-for-13) for the Indians. Last season, he bounced between second base and shortstop and hit .253 with four home runs, 19 doubles and 24 RBIs in 88 games with the big league club.

Right now, Donald has been instructed not to hit for at least three days. He can take part in team stretching, field grounders and play catch, but the team's medical staff wants to take a conservative approach to the offensive part of Donald's game for the time being.

On Sunday, Jack Hannahan (in camp on a Minor League contract) and Lonnie Chisenhall (Cleveland's top prospect) were each in the lineup as the Indians' third basemen for the games against San Diego and Chicago, respectively. Luis Valbuena has seen plenty of action at third this spring as well.

If Donald's injury persists, Indians fans might start hoping that the ballclub will head north with the 22-year-old Chisenhall, who has yet to play a single inning at the Triple-A level. The fact that the youngster has hit at a .478 clip through 11 games this spring has only added fuel to that fire.

Earlier this week, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti made it clear that the team is not going to abandon its development plan for any prospect in light of a hot start at the plate. Cleveland believes there is more for Chisenhall to work on than his skills in the batter's box.

"We've been very encouraged by what Lonnie's done in camp," Antonetti said. "But we try to be mindful of a guy's history coming in, and the opinions of our scouting and player development people based upon their entire body of work with him, and not just evaluate it off 25 Major League Spring Training at-bats.

"It's not just about swinging the bat. There's a lot more that goes into being a Major League player than just the quality of the at-bats you take. Lonnie's had a very good camp offensively and has continued to work and try to improve himself as a player."

The most likely scenario -- in the event that Donald is not able to get enough at-bats to be deemed ready for Opening Day -- would likely have the Indians going with either Hannahan or Valbuena at the hot corner to open the season. Jayson Nix has taken reps at third base this spring, but his primary position is second base.

Hannahan is a plus defender and has hit .400 (8-for-20) through nine Cactus League games. Valbuena has experience at third, but second base is his natural position. This spring, Valbuena -- more likely a candidate for a utility role off the bench -- has hit .167 (4-for-24) with three home runs.

With a pitching staff that relies heavily on inducing ground balls, having a strong defender at third base is extremely important. Donald's natural position is shortstop, but the Indians have liked what they have seen from him so far in the six games he has played down the line.

"He's looked very comfortable at third base," Acta said. "We're looking for a guy who is reliable defensively over there and he certainly survived last year at the big league level when he got thrown into the fire.

"We like the way he goes about his business. He's another guy that is blue collar, just a hard-working guy that gives you everything he's got every single day."

Chisenhall -- selected by the Indians in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft -- entered the Tribe's system as a shortstop, but he has grown increasingly confident at third base over the past three seasons.

"I feel comfortable there," Chisenhall said. "Every year I feel more comfortable and relaxed over there. I'm inviting people to hit the ball over there. At the beginning, I was maybe passive towards the ball, but now I feel more aggressive and comfortable."

That is great news for the Indians, but that does not necessarily mean Chisenhall will be the first choice for third base if Donald continues to struggle with the hand issue.

Could Chisenhall force the Tribe's hand?

"He has a shot," Acta said. "I just don't know what percentage that shot is."

Donald is hoping to make it back into the lineup soon.

"I wouldn't take this like a setback," Donald said. "It's just letting me know I'm not where I need to be yet. I'm just trying to be patient with it."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.