Twins lose but Morneau finds power

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 31, 2011 - 11:51 PM

Despite a pinched nerve in his neck, he had his first multi-homer game of the year.

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DETROIT - Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pulled Justin Morneau into his office last week and asked about putting the first baseman on the disabled list.

This had nothing to do with last year's concussion. Morneau had two recent cortisone shots, treating a pinched nerve in his neck that causes weakness in his left shoulder, an injury that won't subside as long he keeps playing.

After checking with doctors, Morneau decided to keep playing anyway.

He knows his performance is suffering, but it was hard to tell Tuesday night, when Morneau hit two home runs, giving the Twins another lead for their late-inning relief corps to fritter away in a 8-7 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park.

Trailing 7-6 in the seventh, Detroit tied it with a run against Jose Mijares. The Tigers added another run in the eighth off Phil Dumatrait and held on for their eighth consecutive victory over the Twins, dating to last year.

"We need [Morneau] desperately with [Jason] Kubel out, and he did it for us tonight," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We scored enough runs to win. Defense and pitching have gotta hold them down."

It marked the 10th time since May 11 the Twins have lost when tied or leading during the seventh inning and dropped their major league-worst record to 17-36.

This team is going nowhere fast, but after seeing 11 of his teammates go on the DL this year, Morneau is determined not to become the 12th.

"We got it checked it out [with doctors], and there's not really a whole lot that can be done," said Morneau, who turned 30 on May 15. "We shot it twice [with cortisone], and it feels better than it did a while ago. So the hope is that it'll continue to get better."

The injury has slowed Morneau's reaction time on defense and affected his swing. When he was sidelined because of his concussion last July, he was batting .345 with an American League-best .437 on-base percentage and a .618 slugging percentage.

Entering Tuesday, Morneau was batting .242 with a .291 OBP and .335 SLG.

"Obviously, I'm not playing as well as I'd like, but whether it's because of this [pinched nerve] or not, who knows?" Morneau said. "I can play with it, so I'll just keep going."

Morneau's third-inning homer off Tigers starter Max Scherzer stretched the Twins lead to 3-0. It was his first homer since May 19, and the Twins' first in eight days.

Detroit stormed back with six runs off Brian Duensing in the fifth, but Morneau started the Twins comeback in the sixth. After drawing a leadoff walk, he scored on Jim Thome's sacrifice fly.

Then, with two outs in the seventh, Morneau connected again off Scherzer, hitting a two-run homer into the right-field seats. It was Morneau's first multi-homer game of the season and the 14th of his career.

The pinched nerve has made it tough for him to lift weights, so his strength isn't all back, but at least he's keeping himself on the field. He has started 47 of 53 games this year, including seven at DH.

Eventually, Morneau might need surgery to fix the pinched nerve.

"If it's still where it's at now [this offseason], we might have to explore some other options," he said.

That can all wait. Morneau got tired of sitting out last year, and he has no intention of bailing on these Twins now.

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