Justin Morneau: Emerging from the fog

He has been cleared for everything -- except the games. He'll take the next couple of weeks to see how he reacts to being back with his team and working out on a daily basis before he's cleared to play.

FORT MYERS, FLA. - Justin Morneau looked as if he could step right into the Twins lineup and be the power plant he's been for six-plus seasons. But he's not ready for the cleanup spot just yet.

"As much as we'd like to be ready to play [games] today, it's got its own timeline,'' Morneau said Monday as he arrived at spring training. "It hasn't ever been up to me.''

Since suffering a concussion July 7, Morneau has spent most of the time experiencing symptoms. It cost him the rest of the regular season and all of the playoffs. Only recently have the symptoms subsided enough for him to participate in full workouts in the Phoenix area.

He has been cleared for everything -- except the games. He'll take the next couple of weeks to see how he reacts to being back with his team and working out on a daily basis before he's cleared to play.

"Been going through the workouts in Arizona, everything's been going good,'' Morneau said. "I haven't been cleared for game activity; I've been cleared to do workouts -- go out on the field, do everything with teammates, face live pitching, do all that stuff.

"[I'm] not going to be playing in the first four or five games; we'll see how that goes. But we have to wait to see how it goes going through workouts every day, just being with the team, being out there, going through all the drills, all the rest of it. See how that reacts, and hopefully it goes how it has been. It's been going well, especially the last month. It's progressed a lot.''

Twins General Manager Bill Smith said the club likely will be even more cautious than holding Morneau out for a handful of games.

"It's up to Gardy and the trainers and the doctors,'' Smith said, "but I'm guessing that we'll be a week to 10 days, a week to 10 days of games, before we rush him in there. We will be conservative with him.''

Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP, offered lengthy answers during a 35-minute news conference held in the visitors clubhouse in Hammond Stadium. He was batting .345 with 25 doubles, 18 homers, 56 RBI and a .437 on-base percentage when he was inadvertently kneed in the head by the Blue Jays' John McDonald while Morneau was breaking up a double play.

He held out hope he could return in time for the September playoff drive, but the symptoms just wouldn't go away. It came at a time of heightened awareness of the effects of blows to the head and how they should be treated. He also had former Twin and fellow Canadian Corey Koskie and former Wild and current Canucks player Willie Mitchell to lean on for advice, and they suggested he take things slow.

Looking back, Morneau admitted that trying to return before the end of last season was unrealistic. Once the Twins were eliminated from the playoffs, he rested.

"It was probably a month and a half, two months, and then it wasn't full activity when I got back to it,'' Morneau said, "It was a couple days a week here and there. Just trying to see how the body feels, but I think once getting away from it and shutting it down, that helped.''

Since ramping up his activities, he's been swinging a bat, taking ground balls, beginning his days at 8 a.m. and being done by 1 p.m. He said symptoms, such as fogginess, occurred at the end of the day, hours after his workouts. But has hasn't had any for several weeks now.

He said he's past the stage where he'll do something and wonder whether it will trigger a return of symptoms.

He feels he's past that hurdle -- and is running out of hurdles.

"I wouldn't say it's 100 percent yet,'' he said, "but I think it's as close as I can get. It's just trying to get over that final hump.''

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