Justin Morneau is not done.
“My goal is to return this season,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. “I enjoy the game and the competition still. I also still feel I can contribute and help my team win ball games.”
Morneau maintains that outlook despite a neck injury — and more concussion symptoms — that have some wondering if he will retire.
If he comes back from his latest challenge it makes for an ever better story.
Morneau is one of the more interesting players in Twins history. Powerful as a young man, Morneau once hit a home run that hit halfway up the scoreboard in Miller Park. His ridiculous second half of 2006 landed him MVP honors. He finished second in MVP voting in 2008. And the argument continues over the best Twins first baseman, Morneau or Kent Hrbek.
Morneau suffered a concussion in 2010 that cost him the second half of the season and affected him in 2011. But he rebounded last season with Colorado, batting .319 to win the National League batting title. He appeared to have resurrected his career.
On May 13 in Anaheim, he dived for a ball while playing first base and suffered whiplash followed by concussion symptoms. He hasn’t played since. Through 27 games he’s batting .290 with three home runs and nine RBI. He was placed on the 60-day disabled list on July 7.
Morneau had at least two concussions while with the Twins and believes that he suffered more than one during his hockey playing days in Canada. Anything involving his head has to be taken seriously. But also keep in mind that he had neck surgery in 2011 that cost him two months.
“This is way different than what I have dealt with in the past,” he said. “It is more of a neck issue than anything at this point.”
Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, who’s no longer a catcher because of concussion concerns, remains Morneau’s close friend and confidant.
“Knowing what I’ve been through, any time you have a concussion, the next one can cause even more problems,” he said.
Morneau, fortunately, is over the concussion symptoms but has felt discomfort in his neck while swinging his bat. Colorado manager Walt Weiss wasn’t sure Thursday if Morneau would play again this season. Morneau, who at 34 is at the same age Hrbek was when he played his last game, is focused on returning before the year ends. He’s in the final year of a two-year, $12.5 million contract.
“I’m slowly starting to do baseball activities with the goal of getting back into a normal routine of batting practice on the field and everything else that I need to do to be able to play a game,” he said. “I have no time frame for this, but I am hoping to continue to make progress the way I have since the All-Star break.”
The last thing the Royals needed was an injury to a starting pitcher, but Jason Vargas is now out for the year because of a torn elbow ligament.
They already were looking for starting pitching — Johnny Cueto? — before the trade deadline and are expected to push harder now. They were forced to recall Yordano Ventura from Triple-A Omaha before he pitched a game there — and he was sent there to regain his confidence.
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Slowly but surely, Miguel Cabrera is recovering from his calf strain. He’s about halfway through his recovery and is accompanying the Tigers on their current 10-game road trip.
His presence in the clubhouse has been well-received. He took a protein-rich plasma injection last week, and the team hopes he needs just three more weeks to return to the lineup.
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Maybe Cleveland has noticed how Miguel Sano has helped the Twins. The Indians called up first baseman Jesus Aguilar from Triple-A Columbus to give them some more pop in the batting order. Aguilar was batting .255 with 13 home runs and 66 RBI in 93 games at Columbus. He will bounce between first base and designated hitter. Ryan Raburn and David Murphy have split DH duties but will now split corner outfield duties.
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The White Sox will take any offense they can get, even if that means benching catcher Tyler Flowers every now and then. Flowers will remain the No. 1 catcher, but Geovany Soto had blasted four home runs in his past 11 starts.
Manager Robin Ventura said he has no problems with sliding Soto’s bat in the lineup more often if he is going to hit like that.
Three observations ...
• Too bad Michael Cuddyer is on the disabled list, but Michael Conforto — called up by the Mets to replace him — looked like the real deal in the Futures Game.
• Detroit being a seller at the trade deadline? Ha. It was obviously an attempt to light a fire under the team. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch doesn’t sell.
• Apologies for making lofty comparisons, but Miguel Sano at the plate looks like a young Frank Thomas.
... and two predictions
• The Twins will make at least one trade before the July 31 deadline, and it won’t be for a catcher or a shortstop.
• Cole Hamels will end up with the Dodgers.