Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.

Section 219: Watching Morneau is painful

Posted by: Howard Sinker under Twins offense Updated: May 9, 2011 - 9:14 AM

No, I'm not going to rip Justin Morneau here. I'm just feeling sad for him.

Of all the things that have gone screwy for the Twins so far this season, the subpar return of Morneau to the Twins lineup has been the toughest  to watch.

Too often he's looking overwhelmed at bat, unable to cover the outside part of the plate and troubled by pitches inside. There have been clubhouse and media accolades for hard grounders and warning track fly balls that remind me too much of the praise we used to offer up for our junior high basketball players when they executed well but still came up short.

"Good job, Jack. You did everything but get the basket."

Playing in 27 of the Twins first 32 games, Morneau has a .202 batting average and .293 slugging percentage, paltry and pitiful numbers that are so far from what he was putting up (.345 and .618) before last summer's concussion knocked him out of the lineup.

I am undecided how much of his troubles in the field are his own problem, as opposed to being caused by the rotating cast of mediocre middle infielders. Alexi Casilla, in particular, has done Morneau no favors with his throws to first base. Almost all of the others have also contributed to making Morneau look duller in the field than he's been in the past.

But maybe the hardest thing to watch has been Morneau's residency in the third or fourth spot in the batting order, when his struggles are that much more obvious. Nothing has happened recently to suggest that an end is around the corner.

Here's a look at the most troublesome statistic:

The website baseball-reference.com breaks down a batter's performance against pitchers based on power and finesse. Power pitchers are defined as being in  the top one-third of the league in strikeouts plus walks over the last three seasons, plus the current one. Morneau is 1-for-17 (.059) against those pitchers. Against the middle third, he's 1-for-22 (.045).

In his half-season of 2010, he batted .319 against power pitchers and .343 against those in the middle third of strikeouts-plus-walks.

What to do about this?

Gathering more rust on the bench isn't much of an option, all the more when Mauer, Young and Thome are sidelined and almost everyone else is underperforming, too. If his teammates were healthy, it would be a no-brainer to drop Morneau in the batting order to some pressure off him. When the season started, the Twins could crow about their offensive depth. In Sunday's batting order, the entire bottom third had batting averages that resembled a National League pitcher. Things weren't much better elsewhere. Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia haven't stepped up with any consistency.

And the addition of Trevor Plouffe's offense over the weekend (three hits and two walks in three games) may disappear for a time because he apparently suffered a hamstring injury on Sunday. There just aren't many ways to juggle the current cast of available players to cover for Morneau.

It's bad enough to be 12-20. It's even worse to be writing about the idea of covering for Justin Morneau.

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