Hartman: Health concerns for Morneau subside

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 10, 2012 - 10:59 PM

The first baseman says he feels about as good as could be expected; now he just has to start hitting lefthanders.

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Twins first baseman Justin Morneau

Photo: Orlin Wagner , Associated Press

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Justin Morneau's recent contributions are a big reason the Twins have won four consecutive series, but at one time the 2006 American League MVP wondered if his concussion and other health problems might put an end to his career.

"[It can happen] in the middle of winter when you're not playing and you're sitting there wondering how long it's going to take or if it's ever going to get better," Morneau said. "But you just have to keep trying to stay positive, trying to find things to stay positive with and be able to go out there and play. If it's your time it's your time, and I've been lucky enough that I recovered and have been able to go back out there and hopefully it stays that way for the rest of my career."

Morneau said one thing that helped him to be positive was his friendship with former Wild defenseman Willie Mitchell, now a member of the Los Angeles Kings. Mitchell and Morneau are both natives of British Columbia.

"He kind of went through a lot of the same things I did," Morneau said. "He missed a lot of time with a concussion, and he was a guy that I really leaned on when I was coming back and vice versa, so he's a guy that I'm pretty close to."

That is one reason Morneau is pulling for the Kings to win the Stanley Cup.

"I really want to see good things happen for [Mitchell], and hopefully they can get it," said Morneau, who has played a lot of hockey and might have suffered some concussion problems doing that in the past.

As for his health now, Morneau said: "As close [to 100 percent] as you can be in the middle of a season. I'm feeling pretty good. The swing is starting to feel better. The most important thing is we're starting to win some ballgames and we're starting to play a lot better as a team. It's been a lot more fun recently than it was at the start of the year, that's for sure."

In the past 12 games, Morneau is hitting .273 with a homer, a triple and three doubles, along with nine RBI, five runs and five walks.

Earlier this season, Morneau was being used almost exclusively at designated hitter, for fear there would be more concussion problems if he got bumped or fell the wrong way. But that hasn't been a concern of late; in his past 23 games since coming off the disabled list, he has made 20 starts at first.

"I've been able to run out there and play and not have to think about it too much," he said. "It's been a lot better to be able to run out there and feel like you're contributing even when you're not hitting.

"But that other stuff [with concussions] is kind of out of my control. It's something that the doctors have told me that I shouldn't have to worry about, but you never know. I just take it day by day and just enjoy every day that I get to go out there. ...

"Every day, I think we all realize that we're lucky that we get to put on the Minnesota Twins uniform and just go out there and compete and try to win ballgames."

Morneau reported that the wrist he had surgery on has felt fine. "It's responded well since I had the cortisone shot in there and had the little time on the DL, which we were trying to avoid but unfortunately I had to do, but right now it's looking like it was the right thing to do," he said.

Tough hitting lefties

Morneau is hitting only .105 against lefthanders this year while hitting .326 against righties. He knows that awful number against lefties has to come around; for his career, he is a .252 hitter vs. lefties and .295 vs. righties.

"Searching for solutions right now. It's something that I kind of know what I'm doing," he said. "I'm just having trouble correcting it."

Specifically, he said: "I have to stay on the ball a little bit more and start using the whole field. I think I'm just pulling off a little bit and missing some pitches I'd usually be hitting. I just have to keep the faith and keep grinding it out and keep working on it.

"I'm in the cage hitting off the slider machine and I'm doing things and just trying to get it back to where I feel comfortable and where I want to be. I expect that to turn around. I know what the numbers are, I know they're not very good. I definitely want to improve on that, and when I do that it will be even better."

Missed goals

Losing to Eden Prairie with a state baseball tournament berth on the line was tough enough on the Minnetonka High School baseball team.

But Wednesday's loss was also heartbreaking since the Skippers had dedicated the season to one Dave Bigham, wearing his DWB initials on their hats all season. Bigham was a family man who died at the young age of 41 because of a heart attack in February. Many Minnetonka players had been coached in their younger days by Bigham, a man they really looked up to.

Bigham, whose son Wynn plays for the Skippers, had been a great force for Minnetonka athletic programs after being a hockey and baseball player in Mankato and being drafted out of high school by the Twins. Bigham also played hockey for the St. Paul Vulcans.

Jottings

• Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said Byron Buxton, the outfielder the club took with the second overall pick of the draft, was top on the team's draft board for the past nine months. "We would have taken Buxton if we had the first pick in the draft," Ryan said. Buxton will be in town this week.

• Josh Willingham was largely viewed as a replacement for Michael Cuddyer after the former Twins star signed with the Colorado Rockies, and so far this season Willingham is outperforming Cuddyer offensively. Cuddyer is hitting .272 with seven home runs, 38 RBI, 21 doubles and 31 runs scored. Willingham is hitting .289 with 11 homers, 41 RBI, 18 doubles and 35 runs for the Twins.

• Former Twins closer Joe Nathan told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he is keeping a close eye on how Stony Brook is doing in the NCAA baseball tournament. Nathan attended the school, which is also the former home of University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler. Speaking of Nathan, he lowered his ERA to 1.82 after a scoreless inning with a strikeout Sunday against San Francisco, his original team. He now has 29 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings to go along with 12 saves for Texas.

• Gophers pitcher TJ Oakes, drafted in the 11th round by Colorado, signed this weekend for a $100,000 bonus and will leave school for the minor leagues. He reports Monday to Pasco, Wash., and the Tri-City team of the Northwest League. The pitching coach there is former major leaguer Dave Burba, who in 1992 spent time with the Giants' Class AAA Phoenix team, where his pitching coach was Todd Oakes -- TJ's father and the current Gophers pitching coach.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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