McDonald takes Hill's place in the field
Infielder gets first start at second base Thursday vs. Yanks
TORONTO -- John McDonald wants to be on the field. Before each game, the Blue Jays' veteran infielder heads to the hall outside the team's clubhouse to check the sheet hanging on the wall, hoping to see his name among those in the starting nine.
"Every day I check the lineup," McDonald said. "You're always disappointed when your name isn't in it."
On Thursday, the scarcely used McDonald finally made it into manager Cito Gaston's order with a start at second base for the finale of a three-game series against the Yankees. The move allowed second baseman Aaron Hill to slide into the designated-hitter's role to help rest a sore left shin and was also intended to provide a day off for regular DH Adam Lind.
McDonald doesn't care what circumstances led to his first start of the season, he was just thrilled to be back on the diamond. Given the impressive play of shortstop Marco Scutato and Hill so far this season, McDonald is understanding of his diminished role, even if the lack of playing time can be a source of frustration at times.
That is something McDonald's teammates appreciate, because they know how much he wants to contribute.
"He's got the best attitude going about this whole thing," Hill said. "I know it helps that we've been playing well and guys have been doing great. Scutaro has been having an unbelievable year, so that makes it a little easier on [McDonald]. I know it's killing him inside. He's an athlete, he wants to play. That's what's inside him."
Entering Thursday, Hill was batting .346 with nine home runs, 30 RBIs and a .553 slugging percentage, appearing in all of the Jays' 36 games. His 56 hits led the Majors and he ranked first in baseball among second basemen in hits and RBIs, while his home run total was second to only Philadelphia's Case Utley (10).
Scutaro had also appeared in every one of Toronto's games, posting a .271 average and a .402 on-base percentage with five homers and 18 RBIs. Scutaro's 31 walks ranked first in the Majors and his 32 runs scored represented the fourth-highest total in the game.
"As well as our guys have been playing," McDonald said, "Marco at short and Aaron at second, specifically -- how well they've been playing all year long -- it's been a lot of fun to watch."
In the field, Scutaro has also proven to be a more-than-capable shortstop. That being the case, Gaston opted to leave Scutaro at short with McDonald in the lineup.
"Last year, I always moved Scutaro to second base and let Mac play short," Gaston said. "I think if Scoot is going to play most of the shortstop, then leave him there and let him play. Mac doesn't mind playing second base. Mac can play anywhere out there."
Playing second base is a bit of a change for McDonald, though.
The 34-year-old McDonald hasn't started at the position since July 9, 2006, serving primarily as a shortstop -- Toronto's starter at short for many prolonged stretches -- over the past few seasons. Even in their days as Minor League teammates in the Indians' system, Scutaro would man second and McDonald would play short.
"We're a little reversed from what we're used to, but it's the same stuff," said McDonald, who rarely takes grounders at second during his pregame routine. "I've taken hundreds of feeds from him at second and at short. We've done both before in the past."
On Wednesday night, McDonald replaced Hill in the field after the second baseman fouled a pitch off his left shin. Hill said his leg was still sore on Thursday, but he didn't expect to be off the field for more than one game. Hill's stint as the DH was his first in that role since Oct. 1, 2006, during a road contest against the Yankees.
"It'll be fine," Hill said. "It feels a lot better than it did last night. I've done it plenty of times. You stay in the game and the numbness goes away. It just happens. It wasn't one of those times. It was a good one. It was fun -- a fun night of sleep."
Hill's injury opened the door for McDonald's first start for the Blue Jays since last Sept. 27. This season, McDonald has only appeared in 13 games as a defensive replacement or a pinch-runner. Before going 1-for-3 on Wednesday, McDonald had no more than two at-bats in any game and only one at-bat in May.
"I don't want to say that's his role, but he's accepted it," Hill said. "For right now, it's working and he's happy. I mean, he says he is. We're all pulling for him. We'd love to see him get in there, and I know the fans love to see him get in there. Even though I'm not playing, it'll be fun to see him get out there and get some ABs and get on the field."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.