Healthy and hot once again, Morneau lifts Twins over Worley, Phillies, 11-7

  • Article by: Associated Press
  • Updated: March 28, 2012 - 5:04 PM
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Minnesota's Luke Hughes, center, is congratulated by teammates Joe Mauer, left, and Justin Morneau after his three-run home run against the Philadelphia Phillies in the fourth inning Wednesday.

Photo: Charles Krupa, Associated Press

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Designated hitter is working out just fine for Justin Morneau.

The question that is lingering after yet another strong showing at the plate — this time a 3-for-4 performance with a two-run home run in an 11-7 win over the Phillies on Wednesday — is just how much more Morneau will play there.

"We keep him healthy down here and go from there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "See how we go when we get closer to opening day. I'm not worried about him playing first base. He takes groundballs and does all those things. I'm not worried about it. You just have to remember that, at one point or another this summer, he'll play first base."

Morneau has been spending most of his time at designated hitter for the last two weeks, trying to recapture his swing while healing a lingering wrist injury and trying to avoid the fatigue from a number of injuries that led him to miss 174 games over the last two years.

The results are beginning to show. The former American League MVP has gone 7 for 14 his last four games with a double and three home runs after a slow start to spring training. Gardenhire said that was all part of the plan.

"Just get him on the right page where he's feeling good about himself and then worry about the other stuff," Gardenhire said. "I think we're getting pretty close. He's feeling pretty good about himself. That was the goal here, was to get him feeling comfortable again and realizing how good of a baseball player he was, rather than all the other stuff he's had to worry about."

The latest outburst came at the expense of Phillies starter Vance Worley, who gave up 11 runs — five earned — on 11 hits through four innings Monday.

Worley, who impressed last year in his first season in the Phillies rotation with an 11-3 record and 3.01 ERA, wasn't worried by his first rough outing of the spring.

"Just the location today was the only thing that hurt me," Worley said. "I would imagine it's not going to be like that next time. If it is, we've got a problem and we'll fix it. It happens."

Worley had been tinkering with his changeup ... with mixed results.

"I did, and I gave up a home run with it," the right-hander said. "But the speed on it is better. I'm still working on it."

The Twins are still working on finding the best way to use Morneau. For now, starting the season as a designated hitter seems more and more a viable option, though not a permanent one, Gardenhire stressed.

"When we play National League baseball, if he wants to play, he's going to have to play first base," Gardenhire said. "That's why we're not going to call him a full-time DH at any time. We may play him at DH a lot, but we're still going to have to play him at first base."

Meanwhile, a few other options have emerged. Star catcher Joe Mauer played several games at first base last year, and Ryan Doumit, who was signed in the offseason p designated hitter, can also play at first.

But two young players from the Twins minor league system — Chris Parmelee and Luke Hughes — have put in strong springs at the position, and could also figure into the mix. Hughes added to his big month with another impressive day, going 2 for 4 with a three-run home run to push his spring batting average to .375 with five home runs and 18 RBIs, both team highs.

"If he keeps swinging, we'll like him in more than a utility role," Hughes said. "Somebody else will be utility, and he'll be playing. If he keeps swinging like that . we find places for people that are hitting like that. "

Francisco Liriano gave up two runs on eight hits in four innings for Minnesota.

Hector Luna went 3-for-5 with a home run to lead Philadelphia.

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