Josh Donaldson spoke with reporters for about 30 minutes on the field before Wednesday’s game between the Twins and Yankees at Target Field, and the Minnesota third baseman said he wasn’t calling out New York ace Gerrit Cole last week when he referenced Cole’s diminished spin rate in his previous start.
“When I say something, it’s been thought through before. It’s not just something on a whim,” Donaldson said. “I would say this: With Gerrit Cole, he was the first guy to pitch since the [minor league] suspensions had happened and he was the first guy you could see spin rates going down. Since Gerrit did that — we’re going off an interview that was done four or five days ago — there have been 12 or more guys already whose spin rates have magically dropped in the last week. So it’s not just Gerrit Cole; I want to get that out. With that being said, we’ll see how it plays out.”
Cole’s average spin rate in his previous start against the Tampa Bay Rays — in which he allowed five runs in five innings — was his lowest in a start since 2018. His average spin rate in 2021 entering that outing was 2,520 rotations per minute, and it fell to 2,429 against the Rays. His fastball rpm fell from 2,561 to 2,436, and his curveball from 2,840 to 2,763.
“Is it a coincidence Gerrit Cole’s spin rate went down yesterday after four minor leaguers get suspended for 10 games?” Donaldson had said last week. “Is that possible? I don’t know. Maybe.”
With MLB indicating it soon will start cracking down on illegal substances applied to the baseball, other pitchers also have seen their rpms fall. Los Angeles Dodgers starter Trevor Bauer, who had seen his average spin rate increase dramatically the past two seasons, also had his lowest average spin rate of 2021 in his last start, averaging 2,780 rpms after averaging 2,888 rpms heading into that game.
Asked Tuesday about Donaldson’s comments, Cole said, “I kind of felt it was a bit of low-hanging fruit, but he’s entitled to voice his opinion. I just have other things that I need to keep my focus on, so respectfully I can’t worry about that type of stuff. I would say as a member of the executive council and the union, part of my role there is to facilitate communication about all things involving the game and I’m open to doing that.”
Donaldson responded Wednesday to Cole’s non-answer about whether he had ever used a substance called Spider Tack by saying, “I saw the response. That’s him and his camp. I can’t control his response, right? I think at the end of the day, time is going to tell what happens. And I’m not in his position, so I don’t have to wear that when I sleep at night.”
With some speculation that Cole might throw at Donaldson on Wednesday, he instead went right after him in the bottom of the first inning, striking out Donaldson on a 1-2 big-breaking curveball that measured 2,901 rpms — a higher spin rate than all but one curveball he threw against the Rays. Cole stared in at home plate as Donaldson walked away to the dugout. In the third inning, Cole fanned Donaldson for a second time, on a 2-2 slider that was up and in, and once again gave him a little extra look.
Donaldson, the 2015 American League MVP with the Toronto Blue Jays, has always been an outspoken player and said he decided to speak out on the foreign substance issue because “nobody’s speaking up for the hitters. So it’s probably not going to be as serious as if it’s a rookie or somebody else that doesn’t have the time in the big leagues. So I felt like, for myself, it was almost a responsibility for me to say something because that’s how serious I think [the problem of grip substances] is.”
Last week, Donaldson said, “Hitters never cared about sunscreen, rosin or pine tar. We haven’t cared about that because it’s not a performance enhancement. What these guys are doing now is performance enhancing.”
Donaldson reinforced that stance on Wednesday.
“Just think about how many pitches I’ve seen in my career, think about Nelson Cruz, a lot of these guys who have seen a lot of pitches,” he said. “We know when stuff’s up. It’s hard to probably find the ingredient to what’s causing that. But now that there’s been some enlightenment to that, that’s why you’re seeing guys take a stance on it.”
ESPN’s Marly Rivera contributed to this report.