To get him back, they merely had to wake him up.
The original plan was that McDonald was going to be designated for assignment so the club could clear a roster spot for Mike Cameron, who was activated from the disabled list on Tuesday.
But when outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury experienced soreness in his left side prior to Tuesday's game, the Red Sox contacted McDonald, who was still at the team hotel, and told him to report for the game.
Though McDonald's cell phone was on vibrate, it made just enough noise to awaken him from a late-afternoon nap before his scheduled flight back to Boston, which would have been around 8 p.m. ET.
"I was sound asleep," said McDonald. "I was trying to watch 'The Book of Eli,' and I fell asleep and my phone was on vibrate. I don't know how I got up. I looked, I saw it was Tito. I thought maybe it was a trade or something. He kind of explained the situation. It was another day like the first one."
McDonald was referring to his surreal first day with the Red Sox, back on April 20, when the team had sequestered him at a Boston hotel and told him to be on standby just in case the club had to put Ellsbury on the disabled list. When that happened, McDonald joined the club a couple of hours before the game and wound up supplying a pinch-hit, game-tying homer and a walk-off hit.
He got to Tropicana Field maybe an hour before Tuesday's game, but no such dramatics were needed from McDonald this time around. McDonald came on as a defensive replacement in the ninth but did not get tested in Boston's 2-0 victory.
It was nicely strange for Francona to be able to welcome McDonald back to the team less than 24 hours after he informed him that he was going to be a roster casualty.
"We tell our guys when these happen, 'Make the adjustment, go down and work on some things.' He did it as well as you can," quipped Francona.
Meanwhile, reliever Scott Atchison, who had just been recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket on Monday, was designated for assignment to make room for Cameron.
As for Ellsbury, he felt discomfort in his left side during batting practice. The outfielder had missed six weeks with a left chest contusion and a hairline fracture in four ribs before being activated on Saturday. Ellsbury got X-rays and a CT scan on Tuesday, and everything came back negative. He will be re-examined when the Red Sox return to Boston on Thursday and isn't likely to play Wednesday night against the Rays.
"Everything looks pretty good," Francona said. "I'm sure we're going to want to get some opinions from the people that have seen him and things like that. It was all good news. It's still, according to their doctors, kind of symptomatic, how he feels. But I think we felt like we needed to protect ourselves."
The Red Sox didn't want to designate McDonald for assignment in the first place, because he had done everything the club had asked since coming on board on April 20.
McDonald is hitting .263 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 31 games. Even before experiencing the soreness, Ellsbury was not scheduled to start on Tuesday. He had played in three consecutive games since coming off the disabled list.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.