Atlanta Braves Josh Donaldson Heating up After Slow Start

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CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 21: Josh Donaldson #20 of the Atlanta Braves celebrates with Ozzie Albies #1 (L) and Matt Joyce #14 after hitting a three-run home run off Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Indians during the second inning at Progressive Field on April 21, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)

When the Atlanta Braves signed Josh Donaldson this off-season the move was met with a mixture of both praise and criticism. Despite being a three-time All-Star, many asserted that the best days were behind Donaldson. Others lauded the move as adding a veteran, run-producing bat to an already potent lineup. The Braves believed enough in the third-baseman to award him with a one-year, $23-million contract.

Josh Donaldson Starting to Heat Up

Front Office Familiarity

Atlanta’s General Manager, Alex Anthopoulos was familiar with Donaldson from his time with the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2014, Anthopoulos traded for the then young slugger when he held the same position in Toronto. Donaldson lived up to expectations, earning the 2015 AL MVP.

While the price tag is steep for a player coming off an injury-shortened season, the Braves are betting that Donaldson bounces back and proves himself worthy of a multi-year deal this off-season. Most expect power-hitting prospect, Austin Riley, to be ready to man third base next season.

Slow Start to 2019

Donaldson was sidelined for much of 2018 with a calf injury. The injury limited him to only 52 games last season between Toronto and Cleveland. Statistically, he suffered and turned in the worst season of his career since becoming a full-time starter.

Consequently, the Braves were patient with him this spring and limited his game action early. Donaldson only appeared in nine Grapefruit League games. The Braves were clear, though, about the approach they would take with their new slugger when they signed him. Shortly after the signing Anthopoulos told MLB.com, “We’re confident we can keep him on the field. We’re going to be smart about it and be responsible, and [we’ll] make sure we give him rest when he needs it.”

Early indications are that the layoff led to a slow start to the season. Through the first 13 games of 2019, his batting average was hovering just above .200. Despite being signed as a run-producing bat, he had not hit a home run or even driven in a run through the first two weeks of the season. He finally broke through on April 13, going 2-for-3 with a home run and two walks in an 11-7 win over the New York Mets.

Turnaround

Since that game, Donaldson appears to have turned the corner. In the nine games since, his average has climbed nearly 50 points. He has added three more home runs and driven in seven more runs. Sunday night he slugged two home runs against Cleveland Indians righty Shane Bieber.

Currently, he has a modest five-game hitting streak. During that time, he is batting .333 and has raised his average this season to a respectable .262. As an added benefit, Donaldson has been very steady in the field too.

Outlook

Many players are historically known to get off to “hot” or “cold” starts to the season. Donaldson’s career numbers are varied. He has turned in better offensive starts in seasons past, but the first month is not generally his best stretch of the season. Between 2015-2017, the most productive months for Donaldson all came later in the year.

All signs point to Josh Donaldson being fully recovered and ready to produce solid numbers as the Braves again contend for the NL East. The team is fortunate to have Johan Camargo as a capable fill-in to relieve him occasionally at third base. The team also may elect to use him as the designated hitter in inter-league games as they did in one game last week in Cleveland. It is still early in the season and things can change quickly, but right now Donaldson is proving to be worth the risk.

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