Justin Morneau at designated hitter seeming more likely for Twins

After making six consecutive spring starts at designated hitter, the evidence is piling up that he might see less time playing in the field.

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Justin Morneau was the Twins designated hitter on Monday against the Red Sox, a stretch of six games in a row wher e he started at DH rather than first base.

Photo: Charles Krupa, Associated Press

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TAMPA, FLA. — The Twins have 13 spring training games remaining, meaning they have 13 games to decide what Justin Morneau's role will be with the club.

The Twins had hoped the 2006 American League MVP would be their regular first baseman as he attempts to come back from a 2011 season marred by concussion problems and other assorted injuries.

But questions about Morneau intensified Friday when he made his sixth start in a row at designated hitter. He drove a double over center fielder Curtis Granderson's head in the fifth inning of a 6-4 loss to a Yankees split squad, breaking an 0-for-20 skid and raising his batting average to a still-paltry .108.

His spring slump has led to recent attempts to get him more at-bats, but it also has prompted the Twins to examine how to get the most out of Morneau this year.

Team officials wouldn't commit to anything -- and they don't have to with two weeks of camp left -- but they might be tipping their hand.

Clue No. 1: The six consecutive starts at DH, seven if you count the minor league game he played in Wednesday, during which he got six at-bats. Has he stopped being a first baseman?

"What does it matter?" manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's in the lineup; it doesn't matter where we're playing him. We're just getting him at-bats right now. I know he can play first base, I don't need to know about that. I need to know about other people. Right now, he's just playing.

"We'll decide that when we get down to the end. I told you that before; we'll make that decision at the end of spring training. Right now we'll do what we have to do to get him at-bats."

Clue No. 2: Ryan Doumit started at first base Friday. Doumit can catch, play in the outfield and play first base. But he admits that he's the least comfortable at first, having started only 32 games there in his seven-year major league career. And it was believed that he would not play that much at first -- before his revelation to reporters Friday.

"Talking to Gardy, it looks like I might be might be playing a little more out there and get a couple of games under my belt," Doumit said, "But I think overall [Friday] it was fine."

Clue No. 3: Morneau said he expects to have a discussion with Gardenhire to determine the best way to use him this season.

"Whatever allows me to be in the lineup and be healthy enough to play 162 games and whatever it takes," Morneau said. "And whatever is best for the team, and I think what's best for the team is me being in the lineup every day, wherever it is."

He said he still considers himself a first baseman, but ...

"I think we'll have a talk and see what the plan is," Morneau said. "How much first Joe [Mauer] is going to play to keep him in the lineup. What guys are going to rotate there, how we are going to use the DH. We'll have that conversation before we leave here for sure."

The Twins are weighing several options as the final stage of camp approaches. Mauer has started a few games at first and figures to start there some during the season. Doumit was expected to open the season as the designated hitter but could end up starting games at first as well if Morneau needs to DH.

Could Chris Parmelee, batting .324 with two homers and six RBI this spring, elbow his way into some sort of role? The Twins have said they aren't afraid to take players from Class AA to the majors, but it would be tough to see Parmelee in a reserve role with his service time ticking away when he could hone his skills at Class AAA Rochester.

Gardenhire added Friday that another reason he has used Morneau as a DH lately is because of wrist surgery. Playing first earlier this month, Morneau chased after a foul ball near the on-deck circle, and Gardenhire said he didn't want Morneau to have a setback from diving after balls.

"I told you that from the get-go -- our first goal is first base, and if that's not going to be the right thing we'll move to DH," Gardenhire said. "But right now we're not just DH-ing. I'm keeping him off the field. ... We're keeping him away from anything that might set him back with his rehab."

During the offseason, Morneau hinted that might have to DH some in order to get through this season after being limited to 69 games in 2011 while dealing with concussion symptoms stemming from a blow to his head in July 2010. He had surgeries to his neck, wrist, knee and foot late last season. He reported to camp thinner and admitted that he had symptoms as recently as January.

But he has worked out daily, at times under a blazing hot sky, and is second on the team with 37 at-bats this spring. Physically, he says he feels fine.

"[Thursday] I was able to take a bunch of swings, took a bunch of swings the day before," he said. "Played a few days in a row, got six at-bats the other day. I've been doing a lot and I've been feeling good, so hopefully we'll continue to do that and go from there."

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