Morneau says he can get ready in a hurry

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 7, 2011 - 9:07 AM

He still hasn't played since July, but he says he would not need many spring at-bats to get his bat up to speed.

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Justin Morneau, the Twins first baseman who has been sidelined since July by a concussion, said he is improving every day.

"We've had more good days than bad days," Morneau said Sunday. "I don't know, what we're waiting for it's got to be a week of good days or whatever it is, so we're still waiting for that.

"We haven't quite gotten to that point yet but it's been real minimal now. If there's anything, on a scale of 1-10, [the severity of the effects is] a one. We haven't had any days like we had back in September or October or November where I didn't feel like doing anything and if I had a headache I was laying in bed, that type of thing. It's been good."

Morneau admits that he will still have some lingering concerns the first time he bats in game conditions.

"I think I'd be lying if I said the answer to that was no," he said. "When I got hit in the head in '05 [at Seattle], every once in a while I stepped in against a lefty and it would be in the back of my mind. I got over it over a little bit of time and things started to feel better and it was to a point where I didn't even think about it. I'm sure it will take a little bit of time but we'll get over that point. That's why we're going to wait until it's 100 percent so we're not worried about that stuff and I can be the hitter that I'm used to being."

Morneau was having an MVP-type of season when he suffered the concussion July 7 at Toronto sliding into second base, when his head collided with John McDonald's knee. Hopes for a return kept getting pushed back, until finally it was declared he would miss the remainder of the season.

"It's close now. Just making sure we're doing it right," Morneau said. "We don't want to come back too soon and then all of a sudden some stuff creeps back up and then we get set back. We want to come back, we want to come back fully 100 percent and not have any setbacks and not have any concerns of if we slide in or if we get hit by a pitch or whatever it is. They tell me when I'm recovered, I'm recovered, and if it happens again it's a new injury and we'll know better how to treat it."

Morneau said he took live batting practice the first full-squad workout and has been hitting every day.

"I've been doing everything down here [in Florida] that I normally do in spring training, I just haven't played in any games yet," he said. "This is the last hurdle we have to clear and we still got time. Personally, I feel like I only need about two weeks' of at-bats to get ready for the season, and even 10 days might be pushing it, but that will be close. And if we can go down to the minor league side and it's a little more lax down there, I can lead off every inning if I want to get nine at-bats in a game or stuff like that. There's ways to get me ready if I need to get ready."

Timing not an issue

Morneau said he is not concerned about regaining his old timing at the plate.

"If I was 21 or 22 I think I'd be a little bit more worried or concerned about my timing and all the rest of it," he said. "But I've been around and I've had a lot of at-bats now in the big leagues, and I feel like my swing is what it is. It's kind of to the point where mechanically, it is what it is, and it will just be the timing that needs to come.

"Like I said, those two weeks or 40 at-bats, or whatever number you want to put on it, I think that's how long it will take, and once we get to that point, I think my swing is what it is and I'm pretty confident in that."

The Twins won the American League Central despite missing Morneau at the end of the season each of the past two years. Imagine how much better they will be with both his fielding at first base and the power of his bat in the lineup. They really need him healthy.

No change in hockey

While Joel Maturi got a lot of critical e-mails during the Gophers men's hockey season, things are a little more quiet now that coach Don Lucia and his team have gone seven games without a loss.

Maturi said that regardless what happens this season, Lucia is his coach and will be his coach for next year.

Lucia has been playing eight freshmen, this year and it took some time for the team to get experience.

The program's future is good, with all indications that no one on the roster will leave school early for the pros.

Jottings

• Blake Hoffarber was named to the Capital One Academic All-America second team, the first Gophers basketball player ever named an Academic All-America. ... Al Nolen, the Gophers point guard who has been injured but might return to action Thursday vs. Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament, was academically ineligible for the second half of last season. But now he is doing well in the classroom and he needs only 15 credits to graduate.

• Visiting the Gophers basketball team this week is Julian Welch of Yuba (Calif.) Junior College. The 6-3 Welch played last season at California-Davis. Also scheduled to visit campus this week is Henry Brooks, a 6-7 forward who plays for Miller Grove High School in Georgia. ... Signed Gophers recruit Andre Hollins of White Station High School in Memphis was named the MVP in the Tennessse Class 3A, Region 8 tournament after scoring 19 points in a 60-54 victory on Friday night.

• Mike Dunbar, the first offensive coordinator for the Gophers under Tim Brewster, announced his retirement Sunday. Dunbar, 63, spent 2007 and '08 with the Gophers. He spent 2010 at New Mexico State under coach DeWayne Walker, a former Gophers cornerback.

• Former Wild star Marian Gaborik, who had been out since Feb. 20 because concussion symptoms, returned to the Rangers lineup Sunday. There were rumors that Gaborik was on the trading block, but when General Manager Chuck Fletcher was asked if the Wild would have any interested in reacquiring Gaborik, he said the salary cap would prevent any chance of Gaborik coming back even if the club was interested.

• Former Gophers and major league catcher Greg Olson, who is now in the real estate business, said the home of former Twins ace Johan Santana is still for sale in Bearpath and the price has gone down from $4 million to $3 million without any buyers. And ex-Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper still owns a home in Bearpath that is on sale for $900,000.

• Tommy Thompson, the former Wild assistant GM who used to lead draft preparation for the team and now does the same for the Rangers, said Mario Lucia, a junior at Wayzata and the son of the Gophers coach, is ranked by many of the draft services as one of the top picks of the 2011 draft, which will be held at Xcel Energy Center June 24-25.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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