Hartman: Morneau sees promise in Twins

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2012 - 8:09 AM
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Justin Morneau

Photo: Charles Krupa, AP

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While the media and some fans wonder if the Twins can challenge for the division title after an 0-2 start, first baseman/designated hitter Justin Morneau looks for the club to be a contender. He is hitting the long ball like he did when he was the American League MVP in 2006.

Morneau appears to be healthy again after being sidelined because of concussion symptoms and various other injuries last season. While much of the attention focused on games missed by Morneau and catcher Joe Mauer because of injuries a year ago, Morneau thinks one of the injuries that was mostly overlooked was the concussion symptoms suffered by outfielder Denard Span.

"He's one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball," Morneau said. "He does so many things to set the tone defensively and in center. He's a very good player.

"With him at the top and you put [shortstop] Jamey Carroll in there at second [in the batting order], somebody who knows how to hit, our lineup is going to be pretty deep and I think that will give us a chance to win a lot of ballgames."

Morneau, like everybody else, knows pitching will be the key to any success for the Twins.

"Our pitching staff hopefully will remain healthy," he said. "I think we had four of our five starters ended up on the [disabled list] at some point last year. There's a lot of things coming back this year and obviously a lot of it depends on their health.

"But when you have Gardy [Ron Gardenhire] running the team and you have the lineup that we can put out there and the pitching staff, I think we kind of like the underdog role. I think we're going to play a little scrappier. I think we're going to take the extra bases and do all the little things that we need to do to win ballgames. I think that will give us a chance to win and I believe this team can win."

Morneau hopes the Twins can be successful despite the loss of free agents Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel.

"I've seen a lot of guys go since I've been here," he said. "You always miss the guys when they leave. You know you've developed friendships over the years. With Kubel, I played with him in rookie ball, he was my teammate for a long time and I knew him really well. I played with Cuddyer for quite a while, played with him a little bit in the minor leagues. There's guys that have been around and done some great things, but it gives other guys opportunities.

"We've added some real quality people, Jamey Carroll and [Josh] Willingham and [ Ryan] Doumit, it's going to be opportunities for other guys. I'm looking forward to watching what they can do. We're starting to come together as a team, and things have been progressing pretty well."

Morneau on his health

Morneau talked about how frustrating it was to play in only 69 games last season because of injuries.

"I don't think that anybody wants to be out there more than I do," he said. "It's been a long road. For right now everything is going well, and hopefully it continues that way.

"It's been very difficult. I think sometimes when people don't see you out there, they forget that if we're not out there it's because we can't play, not because we don't want to play. There's nothing worse than being hurt and seeing your teammates running out there to play and you're stuck on the sidelines not able to join in and do what we all love to do."

Morneau talked about how important it is to him to be able to play baseball.

"It's a game and it's a dream that we've had since we were kids to play in the major leagues," he said. "Every day is a dream come true, and when you can't do that, it's very difficult. We realize how fortunate we are to be in this situation, and I don't think there's anybody that doesn't enjoy being out there and realizes how lucky we are."

Mourning Tinsley

The unexpected death of Gophers linebacker Gary Tinsley brought back memories of a similar tragedy when freshman defensive end Brandon Hall was shot and killed in downtown Minneapolis in 2002.

Gophers football coach Jerry Kill and university officials are handling Tinsley's death like they did with Hall. The entire team flew to Detroit for Hall's funeral.

The death of Tinsley, who passed all his football physicals, was a mystery for teammate Spencer Reeves. He talked about how Tinsley was in Reeves' room until about 11 p.m. the night before and wasn't having any problems.

The death of Tinsley hit the team hard. Counselors were brought in to talk to the players in small groups, and Kill spent a lot of time with the players at the team dinner trying to help them.

Assistant head coach Bill Miller mentioned how much progress Tinsley made as a linebacker his senior year and how happy he was about graduating.

Yes, the death of Tinsley hit the team hard and might affect the progress in spring practice.

Jottings
• Chip Armelin, the Gophers sophomore guard from Sulphur, La., has indicated to basketball coach Tubby Smith that he would like to transfer closer to home. Armelin saw little action toward the end of the season and likely will get his release, leaving a scholarship open for Trevor Mbakwe if he decides to play a sixth year.

• Vikings owner/president Mark Wilf said: “Certainly we’ll be disappointed [if a stadium bill isn’t passed]. But we’re encouraged by the fact that, again, the governor, the city of Minneapolis council and the mayor and the council president are supportive and it’s going through the legislative process.”

• Cornerback Michael Carter was the top-rated player recruited during the Tim Brewster era, but now the senior is finally starting to realize his potential. “Michael has had a good spring to this point,” Gophers football coach Jerry Kill said. “Of course there is a very thick bloodline here with the Carter family [Michael’s cousin, Tyrone Carter, was a two-time All-America and won the 1999 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back]. … I think he’s gained some confidence here in the offseason and has done well on and off the field. Hopefully that can translate to good things here in our immediate future.”

• Wolves coach Rick Adelman talked about how physical opponents are getting when defending Kevin Love. “That’s how they’re going to play him, and you’re going to have to adjust to that. … You’re not going to get 40 points every night. A lot of times it’s what your team is doing, too.”

• Vikings football coach Leslie Frazier talked about newly signed guard Geoff Schwartz. “He can play both tackle and guard, that’s a plus for us. He’s a bright guy, and our offensive line coach [Jeff Davidson] worked with him in the past [with the Panthers].”

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