Twins' injuries bury season in world of hurt

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 28, 2011 - 2:59 PM

The idea that this was a season doomed by injuries did not become official until last weekend.

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Just when the Twins were starting to get injured players back last week, it was announced that first baseman Justin Morneau would require neck surgery and would miss several weeks.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune file

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The 2010 Twins had injury problems that included first baseman Justin Morneau missing the last three months of the schedule because of a concussion. He finished eighth on the club with 348 plate appearances.

Even with Morneau's long absence, the 10 most-used players on that club took 76.3 percent of the plate appearances.

The 2011 Twins opened the season on April 1 in Toronto. Joe Mauer was the catcher; Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla and Danny Valencia made up the infield, and Delmon Young, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer were the outfield. Jason Kubel was the designated hitter, with Jim Thome in reserve.

Those were the 10 players that the Twins hoped would get roughly 80 percent of the plate appearances and provide a robust attack.

There were numerous exhibitions missed by key players, yet the Twins opened the season without a player on the disabled list. General Manager Bill Smith talked optimistically about having a "healthy ballclub."

The Twins were playing the final game of that first road trip April 7 in Yankee Stadium. Nishioka was wiped out trying to turn a double play and suffered a broken leg.

The second road trip started in Tampa Bay on April 14. Mauer came to the park with sore legs and feeling ill. Morneau also became sick that weekend and missed a week without going on the disabled list.

Mauer joined Nishioka on the DL that night. Starting then, the Twins have not had fewer than two of their 10 key position players on the disabled list.

They had four of those players on the DL for a week in early June. They peaked with six of those 10 on the DL from June 10 to June 15.

On Monday, they opened a nine-game homestand with four on the DL. Morneau is out for two months, minimum, for neck surgery. Young is out indefinitely because of a damaged ankle. Span is out because of post-concussion symptoms. Kubel is heading for a rehab assignment after missing all month due to a sprained foot.

The fact the Twins are buried at double digits under .500 is not a reflection of a lack of depth in the minor league system. The fact they are careening to their second losing season in 11 years is not a reflection of failed strategy from manager Ron Gardenhire or a lack of clubhouse leaders.

The Twins would have been better served during Mauer's long absence if they had held onto catcher Wilson Ramos, or even Jose Morales, and it would be great if there was a no-brainer, get-him-to-Minnesota hitter at either Class AAA Rochester or Class AA New Britain.

There has been the usual quibble here and there with a Gardenhire move, and I've always been of the view that leadership is a bases-loaded double.

There's no farm system that could mend this many wounds created by injuries. There's no manager who could plot or no clubhouse leader who could inspire to fill this many holes.

The idea that this was a season doomed by injuries did not become official until last weekend.

Mauer and Nishioka had returned June 15. Thome and pitcher Joe Nathan would be joining the team in Milwaukee. Morneau's cast was coming off his left wrist and Kubel was ready to rehab in games.

It looked as if Span might be a one-man band on the disabled list by the time the Twins returned to Target Field.

And then:

On Friday, the Twins announced that Morneau would require neck surgery and would miss several weeks. On Saturday, Young crashed into the left-field wall at Miller Park and put his right ankle through an ugly contortion.

Gardenhire was asked before Monday's game about the run of injuries and where this left him in assessing his ballclub.

"We haven't been able to have the same team out there to have a handle on it," he said. "There have been a lot of different parts we've had to fill in."

The 10 key players have made 70.1 percent of the Twins' plate appearances -- and that number isn't going to get better any time soon.

There's a difference between making an excuse and looking at reality, and the reality is the Twins' season has been ruined by an unrelenting run of injuries to key players.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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