Donaldson tees off, makes Derby semis

Blue Jays slugger praises Reds' Frazier, new format

Donaldson tees off, makes Derby semis

CINCINNATI -- Toronto's Josh Donaldson, who aptly uses the Twitter handle @BringerofRain20, rained a barrage of blasts at Great American Ball Park during Monday's Gillette Home Run Derby presented by Head & Shoulders.

Donaldson advanced past Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the first round of the new bracket format before bowing out to home-crowd favorite and eventual champ, Reds third baseman Todd Frazier, in the semifinals. Donaldson, seeded third, connected for nine home runs, a total Frazier, the No. 2 seed, topped with just seconds left on his four-minute clock.

"Honest to God, I didn't even know who I was going up against the second round, but after 30-40 seconds into it, I could start to hear people boo me," Donaldson said. "Then mid-swing, I was like, 'Oh, I'm going up against Frazier.' Good for them. He put on an awesome performance tonight."

Donaldson moved into a matchup with Frazier by topping Rizzo's eight first-round homers with nine in his first 15 swings of the night. Donaldson was able to end that round early, leaving 14 unused seconds on the four-minute clock and not needing to tap into 30 seconds of bonus time.

Donaldson launched homers on eight of his first 10 swings and made his fifth blast (465 feet) his longest. Only three Derby participants hit one farther.

"If you were to pick a Home Run Derby stadium, it would be this one or you would want to say Toronto," Donaldson said of GABP, at which he had one career home run in seven regular-season at-bats. "Those are the ultimate main boxes you would want to hit in a Home Run Derby."

Getting past the first round was an achievement for Donaldson, who was knocked out in a first-round tiebreaker last year in his Derby debut. Participating under a different set of rules, Donaldson hit three home runs at Target Field.

Donaldson drills one 465 feet

Asked about the contrast in Derby formats, Donaldson lauded the changes.

"You didn't necessarily have to worry about making an out," he noted. "You could try to hit a homer and if you made an out, it wasn't important. You were just against the clock. I thought that made it a better situation for the guys who were participating in it. Overall, I thought it was just better."

This year, Donaldson enlisted private hitting instructor Bobby Tewksbary to serve as his pitcher. Tewksbary, who played two seasons of independent league ball, started working with Donaldson before the third baseman's breakout season with Oakland in 2013. Tewksbary, who also serves as a hitting coach with Toronto's Chris Colabello, helped Donaldson overhaul his swing.

"I think my heart rate spiked more when he asked me than when I actually pitched," Tewksbary said of getting a Monday night phone call from Donaldson, asking if he'd pitch to him in this event. "That was incredible. I've never been on that stage before, so I didn't know what to expect. I thought I was going to be more nervous than I was."

With Donaldson competing in the Derby again, the Blue Jays continue to be well-represented in the showcase event. Jose Bautista was a Derby participant three of the previous four years. Edwin Encarnacion was set to swing in last year's Derby until a leg injury knocked him out.

Donaldson's nine home runs

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Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.