Justin Morneau, who had a big RBI double in the first inning of the Twins' 5-4 victory over the Tigers on Wednesday, is hitting .354, compared with .327 at the same time last year.

The Twins first baseman credits Denard Span and Orlando Hudson, the two batters hitting in front of him, for his improvement at the plate.

"That comes from the guys hitting in front of me, Denard and bringing Orlando in," said Morneau, who is off to a great start after missing the last part of the 2009 season because of a stress fracture in his lower back. "[Hudson] has been great, and he's hit in 11 straight [games] or whatever it is.

"Those two guys see a lot of pitches, and it allows us -- the guys in the middle of the order -- to come up with guys on base, and puts pressure on the pitchers. And when you have those opportunities, you want to take advantage of them.

"And then when Joe [Mauer] is in there, he's on base a ton."

Morneau did miss two games on the recent road trip because his back acted up. The soreness was unrelated to last season's injury.

"I think it was maybe a benefit for me, giving me a break, giving me a couple days and kind of refresh," he said.

About missing Mauer, Morneau said: "Yeah, we're fortunate to win three games [against Detroit] without him. We know we can't keep that up all year. He's last year's MVP and he's a very important part of this team, so we can't [be without] him for too long."

The Twins were 13-15 after 28 games last season and are 19-9 this season.

"We've been a team [in the past] that's started off kind of slow and hit our stride in the middle of the year," Morneau said. "Hopefully with a start off like this, and then if we get that hot streak in the middle of the year, it puts us ahead in first place instead of chasing those teams."

Morneau said the team did have a meeting last week after winning the first game in Detroit and then losing the next two, the Twins' first series loss of the season.

"To tell you the truth, we did have a meeting because we played them last week and we played that first game and didn't play the last two games," Morneau said.

Comparing the Tigers and the Twins, Morneau said: "I'll take our guys any day of the week, but you know you have to be ready to swing when you're facing these guys.

"They handed us our first series loss of the year at their place, and it's good to let them know that we still feel comfortable at home [at Target Field instead of the Metrodome]. We're going to be there hopefully all year battling, and we don't want them feeling too comfortable coming in here just because it's a new building and a new place. It's still our home, we still want that home-field advantage, and it's good to set the tone like we did."

Finding Neshek's injury

Twins pitcher Pat Neshek, who is on the 15-day disabled list, said his hand injury isn't quite in the location everyone thought it was.

"I went to see a hand specialist, and while we thought it was in my middle finger, the problem is actually in the palm going into my finger. So I got the cortisone in the wrong spot.

"We're going to see where it's at in about a week. You know, I wish we would have just found this out right away. But at least we found it out and now I can move on from there."

Jottings

Timberwolves President David Kahn is in Paris to watch Ricky Rubio play with Regal Barcelona in the Euroleague Final Four and try to find a way to get the Timberwolves' 2009 first-round draft choice (No. 5 overall) in a Minnesota uniform as early as next season to build interest in the team and sell more tickets.

Twins General Manager Bill Smith said his team was all over Miguel Cabrera when the Tigers first baseman was a 16-year-old player in Venezuela. Cabrera, who hit two home runs Wednesday against the Twins, wanted to go with Minnesota. However, Smith said the Twins didn't have the money to sign Cabrera, who got a bonus of $1.85 million to sign with the Marlins.

Ron Gardenhire doesn't have too much respect for Sports Illustrated writer Joe Sheehan, who criticized the Twins manager for naming Jon Rauch the closer after Joe Nathan was injured and wrote that Gardenhire doesn't know how to handle the bullpen. ... Gardenhire's son, Toby, has played all the infield positions and caught seven innings the other day for the Twins' Class AA New Britain farm team.

Former Gophers cornerback Marcus Sherels and defensive end Cedric McKinley can thank their college coach, Tim Brewster, for persuading Vikings coach Brad Childress to give them a chance to participate in Vikings rookie camp. As a result of their good performances, they were signed to contracts.

Leo Champagne, the last surviving member of the group that raised the American flag on Iwo Jima in World War II, will be raising the flag at Target Field on Thursday when the national anthem is performed. Champagne, who hails from Maine, is the last survivor of 42 men of the first Marine platoon who climbed Mount Suribachi and raised the flag. ... Also attending the game will be former Twins farmhand Tony Stevens, who left baseball after the September 11 attacks to join the Marines and survived 11 roadside bombs during three tours of Iraq. He is an assistant baseball coach at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

Home attendance for Gophers men's basketball in the 2008-2009 season was 254,602 in 19 games, an average of 13,400 per game, compared with 228,709 in 17 home games, an average of 13,453, in the 2009-2010 season.

Ex-Gophers wrestler Manny Rivera earned a bronze medal while competing in freestyle at 66 kg (145.5 pounds) for Mexico in the recent Pan-American championships.

New Ulm native Jamie Hoffman was drafted by the Yankees from the Dodgers in the first round of the Rule 5 draft, then sent back to the Dodgers in March because Hoffman didn't make the Yankee roster. Hoffman is currently batting .261 as an outfielder for Albuquerque, the Dodgers' Class AAA farm club. ... Rochester native Michael Restovich, a teammate of Hoffman, is hitting .271 for the same club.

Anoka native Dan Johnson, who started his career with Oakland and now is in the Tampa Bay farm system with Class AAA Durham, is hitting .311. ... Ex-Twin pitcher Juan Rincon was called up from the minors by Colorado last week. He pitched one inning, gave up one run and eventually was reassigned to Class AAA Colorado Springs.

Former Twins outfielder Lew Ford, playing for Guerreros de Oaxaca in the Mexican League, is hitting .330 with five home runs, 21 RBI, 18 runs and four stolen bases in 29 games.

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