Twins: Morneau tries to make his way back, again 18 Jan 12

MLB Team Report – Minnesota Twins – INSIDE PITCH

Justin Morneau acknowledged he won’t fully know how much he has recovered from the latest concussion until he starts baseball activities, which he said is about a week behind his regular schedule.

“It’s hard to tell exactly where it’s at, as I have not started baseball activities,” Morneau said in an email interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I will know more when I start swinging and playing catch. I am better in my day to day life, which is a positive sign for me.”

Morneau said he planned to start hitting off a tee this week, although that has as much to do, or more, to do with a wrist injury that plagued him last season.

That’s only one in a litany of health issues that have plagued Morneau since 2009, when he missed the final few weeks of the season, and the playoffs, because of a microfracture in his lower back.

Morneau was having a monster 2010, batting .345 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI, when he took a knee to the head from Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald on July 10, ending his season at 81 games.

Although he recovered in time to start on Opening Day last season, he was limited to 69 games for several reasons. He had surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his neck, which caused pain, weakness and numbness up and down his left arm. At season’s end he had wrist, knee and foot surgeries.

“The wrist is coming along as scheduled,” he said. “I’ll start taking swings off the tee next week. I’ve been able to resume my normal upper body workouts at lighter weights as I build the strength back in the wrist. The foot and knee are doing well.”

Morneau’s frequent absence last season was compounded by injuries to catcher Joe Mauer, the other half of the M&M Boys and winner of the 2009 AL MVP Award. Mauer missed 80 games because of leg, knee and neck injuries, and finished the season on the disabled list because of pneumonia.

Now all eyes are squarely on Morneau.

Asked if he believes he’ll be ready for the first full-squad workout on Feb. 24, Morneau said: “As of right now I expect to be ready, but there’s no way to see into the future. I won’t know how my body is going to react until I do baseball activities. I also have no way of knowing how my body will react to spring training and the grind of playing every day. I am very optimistic that everything will be back to normal.”

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MLB Team Report – Minnesota Twins – NOTES, QUOTES

–RHP Joel Zumaya, trying to come back from two elbow surgeries, agreed to a one-year contract with the Twins, according to multiple media reports.

Zumaya had a workout last month in front of more than 50 scouts in Houston, and his fastball was clocked in the mid-90s. He is coming off a complete year without pitching in a game following a pair of operations to stabilize a bone fracture in the tip of his right elbow.

–CF Ben Revere made one of the best plays of the season, and certainly the best catch in the short history of Target Field, last Aug. 23, an over-the-shoulder grab of Vladimir Guererro’s long line drive that made year-end highlight reels all over the cable dial. But his days as the Twins’ center fielder appear to be over, at least for the near future. General manager Terry Ryan said that job still belongs to Denard Span, whose concussion issues gave Revere his first real major league break last season. “Span’s a natural center fielder and he’ll remain there,” Ryan said. Revere’s range is probably the best on the team, but his arm is among the weakest, and Ryan said that likely will land him in left. He also will probably hit at the bottom of the order after batting leadoff last season. Although he broke the Twins’ rookie record for stolen bases with 34, he finished the season batting .267 with a .310 OBP.

–General manager Terry Ryan implied that Ben Revere will have to fight for playing time, reminding Twins fans not to forget about Trevor Plouffe, the former first-round draft pick (2004) the team is moving from infield to outfield. “The guy’s got some bat,” Ryan said. “We believe his bat can carry one of those (positions).” Plouffe finished with a .238 average in 81 games last season but at one point had a fairly impressive slugging percentage, .438 after 40 games before his power dropped with his poor defense (12 errors at shortstop and second base). Ryan compared Plouffe to another former first-round pick who struggled in the infield before finding a home, and becoming an All-Star, in the outfield. “It’s not too different than what Michael Cuddyer went through 10 years ago, when we put him in the outfield and his bat started to play there,” Ryan said.

–OF Ben Revere also will find competition from OF Joe Benson, a five-tool prospect who has similar speed and range but showed more prowess with his bat in a September callup from Class AA New Britain. In 450 at-bats, Revere finished with 14 extra-base hits, five triples and nine doubles. In just 71 at-bats, Benson hit six doubles and a triple in his first major league action.

–General manager Terry Ryan has been sending a message to his returning starters this offseason: start pitching longer. Of the team’s five starters last season, only RHP Carl Pavano, 35, made 35 starts and pitched 200 innings (222 1/3), and Ryan says that needs to stop. Though he acknowledges there were injuries in 2011, his offseason moves leave no doubt about what he expects in 2012. “I don’t believe in six-and-out,” he said. “That’s a bad mentality.”

The Twins haven’t had more than one starter pitch 200-plus in the same season since 2009, when right-handers Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker threw 205 1/3 and 200, respectively. Neither Blackburn (1), Baker (1) nor Francisco Liriano (0) has more than one 200-inning season. Liriano, in fact, has pitched only one complete game in his professional career, last May’s no-hitter at Chicago. Blackburn (5) and Baker (4) have fewer than 10 major league complete games between them. That’s why Ryan signed RHP Jason Marquis, 32, a 12-year veteran who has thrice thrown 200-plus, to a one-year deal, and plucked RHP Terry Doyle from the White Sox organization in the Rule 5 draft. Doyle pitched 173 innings in the minor last season, then made eight starts in the Arizona Fall League. “We can’t afford to not get innings from the rotation,” Ryan said. “That’s a recipe for a difficult year.”

BY THE NUMBERS: 7 — Combined 200-inning seasons for RHP Carl Pavano and RHP Jason Marquis, two-fifths of the Twins’ 2012 starting rotation. The other three, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano, have a combined two between them.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “The swinging and playing catch are maybe a week behind schedule, but we have an extra week (of spring training) this year compared to last year, as we don’t open until the 6th of April. I expect all the surgical stuff to be ready for spring training.” — 1B Justin Morneau, on recovering from offseason wrist, knee and foot surgeries.

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MLB Team Report – Minnesota Twins – ROSTER REPORT

The Twins are in an odd place, coming off a 99-loss season but betting they don’t need to completely overhaul the team to contend again next season. They used the disabled list a big-league-high 27 times, and they believe getting C Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau and CF Denard Span, among others, back healthy will be the key.

ARRIVALS: OF Josh Willingham (free agent from A’s), C Ryan Doumit (free agent from Pirates), SS Jamey Carroll (free agent from Dodgers), LHP Matt Maloney (waiver claim from Reds), RHP Jeff Gray (waiver claim from Mariners), RHP Terry Doyle (Rule 5 draft selection from White Sox), RHP Jason Marquis (free agent from Diamondbacks), RHP Joel Zumaya (free agent from Tigers).

DEPARTURES: INF/OF Michael Cuddyer (free agent, signed with Rockies), RHP Joe Nathan (free agent, signed with Rangers), RHP Kevin Slowey (traded to Rockies), RHP Jim Hoey (claimed off waivers by Blue Jays), OF/DH Jason Kubel (free agent, signed with Diamondbacks), LHP Jose Mijares (non-tendered, signed with Royals).

FREE AGENTS: None.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: LHP Francisco Liriano, LHP Glen Perkins, 2B Alexi Casilla.

Liriano, in his last season before free agency, should be re-signed but could be trade bait.

MEDICAL WATCH:

–1B Justin Morneau (concussion, left knee surgery in September 2011, right foot surgery in September 2011, left wrist surgery in September 2011) said in an interview Dec. 26 that he still has some post-concussion issues. However, he expects to be ready for spring training.

–OF Ben Revere (left knee surgery in September 2011) should be ready for the beginning of spring training.

–RHP Nick Blackburn (right forearm surgery in September 2011) was expected to need six to eight weeks to recover, so he should be ready for spring training.

–CF Denard Span (vestibular migraines) said he would see a specialist this winter.