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Twins notebook, 7/18

July 18, 2011 Comments off

Morneau set to begin baseball activities

MINNEAPOLIS — Less than three weeks since having surgery to relieve a pinched nerve in his neck, Justin Morneau will begin baseball activities this week.Twins head trainer Rick McWane gave an update on Morneau’s progress Monday morning, and he said Morneau played catch Sunday without any issues.

“He’ll take some grounders,” McWane said. “Swinging a bat will be the last thing, but he’s ready to take ground balls, play catch and run around.”

Morneau had the surgery on June 29 and was expected to be out at least six weeks, a timeframe that would have Morneau back in action for the Twins no earlier than mid-August.

His current progress seems like it may be ahead of schedule, but it remains unclear whether it actually is.

“Maybe a little,” McWane said, “but it’s kind of early to say until he starts swinging.”

Twins decide to be cautious with Baker

MINNEAPOLIS — After Scott Baker felt stiffer than expected on Sunday, he and the Twins’ coaching and training staff decided it would be best not to push things by pitching on Monday.

If Baker had pitched the first game of the doubleheader against the Indians as scheduled, the situation could have gotten worse than it is already. Any issues with his elbow after that outing would have eliminated the Twins’ ability to backdate his trip to the disabled list.

“We all sat down and had a long conversation,” said Twins head trainer Rick McWane. “We all decided it was in his best interest not to push it and give it a couple extra days. We’d already invested 12 days or whatever it was in this, and we didn’t want to have him go out there and throw, because then you’re talking another 15 days.”

Baker’s current plan is to rest for a couple days before throwing another bullpen session. The Twins will reevaluate the right-hander at that point and decide on the next step.

McWane also gave updates on outfielders Denard Span and Jason Kubel, both of whom are rehabbing injuries with Triple-A Rochester.

Span and Kubel started Sunday’s game for the Red Wings, with Span going 0-for-3 batting leadoff and playing center field. Kubel was 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored while batting in the No. 3 spot as the designated hitter.

They’re both scheduled to play again Monday in Rochester.

“Span did fine last night. He’s going to play another five innings in the outfield today,” McWane said. “Kubel is going to play outfield today for nine innings. He had no problems yesterday.”

Twins notebook, 7/15

July 15, 2011 Comments off

Span set to start rehab after concussion

MINNEAPOLIS — After being sidelined for six weeks by a concussion, Twins center fielder Denard Span is scheduled to begin a rehab stint Sunday with Triple-A Rochester.

Span will fly to Rochester Saturday, and be in the Red Wings lineup in center field for Sunday’s game.

“I feel like I have my game face on already,” Span said. “I’m ready to get back to work. I’ve been — I wouldn’t say [on] a vacation because it hasn’t been fun — out for six weeks and it’s been tough. I’m just excited to get back to playing baseball.”

Span said he expected to play five innings Sunday and Monday, and eventually progress to seven innings a game before finally getting to full games in center field.

Now that he has been cleared by Major League Baseball to begin a rehab stint, Span is expected to spend about two weeks in Rochester before returning to the Twins.

Two weeks with the Red Wings could have Span rejoining the Twins during their next road trip out west.

“It’s going to have to be a gradual process with Denard,” Twins head trainer Rick McWane said. “We have to keep in contact with Major League Baseball as far as his progress, and they have to also give us their approval before we activate him.

“It’s still a process with him, but they gave him the OK to go ahead and start playing in games.”

Kubel to DH for Triple-A in rehab stint

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins outfielder Jason Kubel worked out by catching fly balls at Target Field on Friday and is scheduled to resume his rehab Sunday with Triple-A Rochester.

Kubel will join teammate Denard Span in flying out Saturday, and Kubel will be the Red Wings’ designated hitter Sunday.

“It’s been too long,” Kubel said. “I’m finally feeling good enough to do it.

“I know I can get through it now. So we’ll see how it feels at game speed.”

Kubel said his foot is better now than it was when he went down to Class-A Fort Myers to initially begin his rehab last month.

He initially hoped to play Saturday with the Red Wings, but due to the travel schedule, Kubel will not get there until just before game time. Kubel could play in the outfield for Rochester as soon as Monday, and he hopes to be back with the Twins before the end of their current 12-game, 11-day homestand.

“It depends on how he does,” Twins head trainer Rick McWane said. “It’s just going to be a matter of how he feels and how the coaches feel he’s swinging the bat, and we’ll go from there. I think he would like to be back here, but we’re just going to have to wait and see how everything goes.”

Baker, Morneau, Slowey on track for return

MINNEAPOLIS — Right-hander Scott Baker threw a bullpen session Friday with no issues, and is on track to start one of the Twins’ games in Monday’s doubleheader with the Indians.

Baker missed his last scheduled start Sunday before the All-Star break due to a right elbow strain, and was pushed back to Monday to give him more time. With his bullpen session going without any problems, Baker will make his first start in nearly two weeks on Monday.

First baseman Justin Morneau, who had neck surgery June 29 to relieve a pinched nerve, is “doing great” and will be reevaluated after the weekend, Twins head trainer Rick McWane said.

“We’re really happy with the progress he’s made and we’re going to keep that through the weekend,” McWane said. “Monday we’ll look and see where we are and maybe progress a bit.”

Twins right-hander Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) was scheduled to pitch Friday night in another rehab start for Triple-A Rochester. He was expected to be limited to about 90 pitches.

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Twins notebook, 7/14

July 14, 2011 Comments off

Span waiting on clearance to take next step

MINNEAPOLIS — Denard Span is ready to begin a rehab assignment soon. But he has to be cleared first by Major League Baseball.

Span, who suffered a concussion on June 3 in Kansas City, said on Thursday that he may have “jumped the gun” a little on Wednesday in saying he was cleared for a rehab assignment. But his doctor did tell him Wednesday he was ready.

“Honestly, I just got out of the doctor [Wednesday], and listening to the doctor, he said, ‘Let’s do a rehab assignment. I think you’re OK with a rehab assignment,'” Span said. “I probably should have waited until I checked with the trainers and everybody else.”

After joining the Twins in Chicago and participating in pre-game workouts, Span saw the doctor in Pittsburgh, who said Span should be OK to begin a rehab assignment.

Span and the Twins are now just waiting to hear back from the league office regarding his clearance, Twins head trainer Rick McWane said.

“It’s probably going to take him a couple days just to get back on the field and start taking batting practice and running around,” McWane said. “Hopefully, in that timeframe, we can get approval and then he’ll be ready to go about the same time we get approval. But I can’t give you a timeframe. I don’t know how long MLB’s going to take for this.”

Span was hesitant to say he felt 100 percent, but said he felt like he was ready.

After suffering the concussion on June 3, Span played three days later, but has not been back since going on the seven-day disabled list on June 9.

Now that he’s feeling better, all that time off has made Span anxious to get back on the field.

“I feel good enough to go out there and try to see if I can play,” Span said. “I want to go out there and play. If I didn’t feel like I was able to push myself, I wouldn’t go.”

Kubel gearing up for rehab stint at Triple-A

MINNEAPOLIS — If everything goes well over the next two days, Jason Kubel hopes to get to Rochester on Saturday for a week of rehab with the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate.

“I’m going to shag some balls first, see how that feels,” Kubel said. “That’s kind of what got me last time.”

Even if he doesn’t get started by Saturday, Kubel said he expected to join the Red Wings sometime in the next week.

Twins head trainer Rick McWane said Kubel got out on the field Wednesday, ran around and “felt great, a lot better than last week.”

Kubel has been on the 15-day disabled list since June 2 with a sprained left foot, and a setback two weeks ago has extended the length of his rehab.

When the injury originally occurred, Kubel did not expect to even go on the DL.

Part of the problem, Kubel said, is that the original injury to the Lisfranc (upper) part of his left foot resulted in him overcompensating and aggravating the plantar fascia area on the bottom of his foot.

“It was both,” Kubel said of when he reinjured his foot. “But the days after that, about five or six days after that, the bottom was about as worse as it’s been in a while.”

Plouffe slated for utility role with Twins

MINNEAPOLIS — Last time he was with the Twins, defensive issues at shortstop played a part in Trevor Plouffe getting sent back to Triple-A Rochester.

Plouffe rejoined the big league club on Thursday, and now that he’s back, Plouffe is going to see time at a number of different positions, with shortstop no longer being his No. 1 option.

“He’s definitely going to play some first base up here, there’s no doubt. He’s going to mix it up,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Definitely there, third, outfield, he’s been playing them all. Short, second, just about anywhere you can run him out there and see what happens if you need him.”

In his most recent Minor League stint, Plouffe played several games in the outfield and, at Gardenhire’s request, was then moved to first base. Plouffe was originally in the lineup at first base Thursday, but with Jim Thome being a late scratch, he was moved to designated hitter.

Plouffe was hitting .313 with 15 home runs and 33 RBIs when the Twins recalled him.

“He’s got his confidence back, and that’s a big part of baseball,” Gardenhire said.

In a brief session with reporters — which was interrupted by Gardenhire to get Plouffe back to finish up his work at first base — Plouffe said the position changes have helped him focus.

“At first, I thought it might take away from it, but when I started moving around I started having a little bit of fun,” Plouffe said. “It’s kind of like I rediscovered baseball, if you will. It was exciting, I didn’t know where I was going to play.”

Morneau cleared to start non-baseball activities

MINNEAPOLIS — Justin Morneau has been cleared to begin non-baseball activities, Twins head trainer Rick McWane said before Thursday’s game against the Royals.

Morneau underwent neck surgery on June 29 to repair a pinched nerve, and is expected to be out until at least mid-August.

“He’s been working out, doing some cardio,” McWane said. “He can do pretty much what he wants to in the weight room and off the field. But he’s not going to throw and swing for about another week or so.”

McWane also gave updates on several other injured Twins.

Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) is scheduled to start on Friday for Triple-A Rochester. McWane said he expected Slowey to be limited to about 90 pitches.

Scott Baker, who skipped his last start due to a right elbow strain, is scheduled for a bullpen session on Friday afternoon.

“His elbow feels a lot better,” McWane said. “We anticipate him making a start on Monday.”

Thome has been battling a sprained toe on his left foot, and was a late scratch on Thursday afternoon.

McWane said Thome felt better, but wanted to run around and test it out before returning to the lineup. Thome was available to pinch-hit against the Royals.

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Morneau, other injured Twins progressing

July 2, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins first baseman Justin Morneau had the cast removed from his wrist on Friday, and will begin to work on rehabbing it soon.

“He said it felt pretty good,” Twins head trainer Rick McWane said. “He’s going to start some gripping exercises, some range of motion, and start getting the strength back in his forearm.”

Morneau had his left wrist immobilized for 10 days in June, with the hope that it would help heal both his sprained left wrist and the pinched nerve in his neck. Once he decided to have neck surgery this week, the cast was put back on his wrist to give it more time to heal.

McWane also gave updates on the Twins’ other injured players before Saturday’s game.

Right-hander Kevin Slowey (strained oblique) and left fielder Delmon Young (right ankle sprain) will travel on Sunday to Triple-A Rochester. Slowey is scheduled to pitch on Tuesday for the Red Wings and throw 60 pitches. Young will begin a rehab assignment next week.

Outfielder Jason Kubel (left foot sprain), who is on a rehab assignment with Fort Myers, made progress on Saturday, as he felt better running and took batting practice.

“He still has difficulty making cuts,” McWane said. “He’s not scheduled to play in a game, and we will re-evaluate daily.”

Neck surgery to extend Morneau’s stay on DL

June 24, 2011 Comments off

By Jordan Schelling / MLB.com

MILWAUKEE — It will be at least mid-August before Justin Morneau is back at first base for the Twins.Morneau, who said he has not been able to feel the index finger on his left hand since the last week of Spring Training, will have neck surgery on Wednesday to relieve a pinched nerve causing the problem. The procedure will remove a herniated disk fragment from Morneau’s neck.

“When we immobilized his wrist, it was the expectation and hopes of our doctors that the time off from swinging would also benefit his neck,” Twins head trainer Rick McWane said. “Last week we sent him to see another neck specialist; this was our desire, our team doctors’ desire. It wasn’t something that Justin was pushing.

“That doctor decided that the best course of action would be to have surgery.”

McWane said it was a non-invasive procedure, but Morneau, who has been on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 10, was expected to be out at least six weeks after Wednesday’s surgery.

McWane also emphasized several times that it was the decision of the team doctors to have Morneau see a neck specialist, and that Morneau would have preferred to fight through it. After seeing the specialist, it was determined that surgery was the best option.

Morneau also had the cast put back on his left wrist to keep it immobilized, which will help that injury heal while he’s unable to do anything baseball-related due to the neck surgery.

“The thing that kind of made the decision was hearing that it could be permanent weakness in the arm, and numbness in the fingers and all that stuff,” Morneau said. “I’d like that to go away. That’s the plan for the surgery, hopefully that’ll be the result and I’ll come out good and be ready for August and September.

“That’s what I think the decision came down to, being able to play late in the year instead of trying to find a way to push through it and not feel very good. I could break down and need the surgery later in the year and have to sit out again.”

With Morneau out, Luke Hughes and Michael Cuddyer will likely split most of the time at first base until he returns. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire did suggest that a number of others could be options there as well, including catchers Rene Rivera and Joe Mauer.

“I’m trying everything,” Gardenhire said. “I’ve talked to Joe about it, I’ve talked to everybody about it. We’re not afraid to move people around and keep his bat in the lineup on a more everyday basis. Playing a little here, playing a little there.”

After returning from a concussion that cost him much of last season, Morneau has struggled through the first three months of this season, fighting through neck and wrist injuries. The result has been a .225 batting average, with four home runs and 21 RBIs through 55 games.

Morneau missed five games in early April with an injury, and has not played since June 9 due to the wrist injury that landed him on the DL. McWane said that the neck injury and the concussion were not related in any way.

It’s the latest in a number of injuries for Morneau in recent years. He missed the last few weeks of the 2009 season with a stress fracture in his back, and the second half of 2010 with the concussion suffered on July 7 at Toronto.

“It’s just sort of, trying to figure out if I’m doing something wrong, if there’s something wrong mechanically, if there’s something wrong training, whatever,” Morneau said. “I’m trying to look at everything to see if there’s anything I can do differently, or better or less or whatever it is.

“As frustrating as it is for fans to sit there and go, ‘You know, I’d like to see this guy play,’ it’s a million times more frustrating for me to have to sit here and watch it on TV and not be a part of it.”

The latest setback for Morneau comes just as the Twins were seemingly on the verge of getting their entire Opening Day lineup back healthy.

Designated hitter Jim Thome rejoined the club in Milwaukee and is expected back soon, which should help replace some of the power lost without Morneau in the lineup.

“You want them to get back as quick as they can,” Thome said. “[But] I think when you look at our season, and how our season’s gone, you’ve really got to look at our young guys and how they’ve stepped up.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Twins notebook, 6/14

June 14, 2011 Comments off

Morneau tries to hit, placed on disabled list

MINNEAPOLIS — First baseman Justin Morneau is the latest in a long list of Twins to hit the disabled list this season.

Morneau was placed on the 15-day DL with a left wrist strain and will have his wrist immobilized for 10 days, Twins general manager Bill Smith said after Tuesday’s rainout. The move is retroactive to June 10.

“We’re looking at this as a short-term event, but we will put him on the DL,” Smith said. “Rest, and they believe it will come around in that 10 days, plus a few days to get his range of motion back.”

The Twins will make an additional roster move before Wednesday night’s game to replace Morneau on the 25-man roster.

Morneau, who has not played since Thursday to rest his sore left wrist, had the MRI on his wrist looked at by a specialist, Dr. Thomas Varecka, who recommended a cortisone shot. After getting the cortisone shot on Sunday, Morneau hit in the cage on Tuesday and didn’t feel good.

“He came in today, said he felt pretty good, went down to the cage, took about 20 swings, and it wasn’t as good as we had hoped,” Twins head trainer Rick McWane said.

After the session in the cage did not go well, Morneau was sent to see Varecka, and that meeting resulted in the decision to put Morneau on the DL.

Nishioka may rejoin Twins on Wednesday

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s not official yet, but Tsuyoshi Nishioka could be back in a Twins uniform as soon as Wednesday.

Nishioka played nine innings at shortstop on Tuesday in Toledo for Triple-A Rochester, and is scheduled to travel back to the Twins Cities on Wednesday.

“What we want to do is let the doctors and trainers see him,” said Twins general manager Bill Smith. “They haven’t seen him in a long time. He’s been down in Fort Myers for a long time. So we want to let them see him before we do anything further.”

Nishioka went 0-for-4 on Tuesday, and batted .333 in three games with the Red Wings, going 4-for-12 with a double, an RBI and a walk. In four games with Class A Advanced Fort Myers, Nishioka also was 4-for-12, with a double, an RBI, two walks and a stolen base.

Before fracturing his left fibula against the Yankees on April 7 in New York, Nishioka played six games at second base for the Twins. He batted .208/.269/.519 with a double, two RBIs, two walks and a stolen base.

Since going down to Fort Myers, Nishioka has been working on turning double plays at both shortstop and second base, even spending some time with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.

“Molitor did a lot of work with him,” Gardenhire said. “I talked with Moli today, and he said he actually moved around really good both sides. He’s moving around very well at shortstop, arm strength’s a lot better than Moli saw in Spring Training.”

Gardenhire and the Twins have said they plan to move Nishioka to shortstop when he returns, in part due to the nature of his leg injury. At shortstop, Nishioka will have a better view of the runner coming at him during a double play, rather than facing away from the runner while awaiting the throw as the second baseman.

In addition to working on his play at shortstop, second base and around the bag on double plays, Molitor gave Nishioka some advice on recovering from injuries, having dealt with a few during his career himself.

Molitor said he really didn’t get to see much of Nishioka before the injury, but he does like what has seen during his rehab work in continuing to adjust to the differences between baseball in Japan and the Major Leagues.

“He’s done very, very well,” Molitor said. “How well he’ll do as he comes back from not only a disappointing injury but also acclimating to Major League Baseball, I couldn’t tell you. But I do believe that, in time, he’s going to be a very good player.”

Twins notebook 6/12

June 12, 2011 Comments off

Thome to start rehab work on Monday

MINNEAPOLIS — Eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, designated hitter Jim Thome will begin rehab work in Fort Myers, Fla., on Monday.

Thome, sidelined since June 2 with a strained left quadriceps, has made progress over the weekend since receiving an epidural on Friday. Before the Twins’ series finale with the Rangers on Sunday, Thome even took some swings in the cage.

“I’m feeling good,” Thome said. “I swung and had no issues today. Everything went good.”

Manager Ron Gardenhire said before Sunday’s game that if everything went well, the club would send Thome to Florida.

“He said he would really like to get to Florida and start getting in that heat and start doing his rehab down there and get back to swinging,” Gardenhire said. “He likes that program down there because it’s controlled pretty well, but he can get a lot of work in because there are so many bodies down there that are willing to try to do something.”

Until he begins working in Fort Myers, though, Thome won’t know whether he’ll be ready to return to the Twins when he becomes eligible on Thursday.

Even if it takes Thome a few extra days to return, the Twins should have a pretty formidable lineup when he does, with Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka expected back from the 60-day DL in the next week.

“I think it’s exciting, yeah,” Thome said. “Especially with as hard as those guys have worked down there, Nishi and Joe, and the rest of the guys here obviously have done a great job lately. So it’s kind of exciting to see where our team could go.”

Morneau, others making progress in recovery

MINNEAPOLIS — Hand specialist Dr. Thomas Varecka has not yet seen the MRI taken of Justin Morneau’s left wrist, but that should not delay Morneau’s scheduled return.

The MRI showed some fluid but did not reveal any structural damage. Morneau may receive a cortisone shot at some point, but he is expected back in the lineup on Tuesday after sitting out Saturday and Sunday and the Twins’ off-day on Monday.

“[Varecka] probably will see it [on Monday],” said Twins head trainer Rick McWane.

McWane also gave updates on the rest of the injured Twins, though there are no major changes for any of them.

Relievers Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) and Joe Nathan (elbow soreness) continue to work in Fort Myers, Fla., at extended spring training. Slowey was scheduled to throw off a mound on Sunday, and Nathan is set to face hitters on Monday.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka (fratured left fibula) and Glen Perkins (strained oblique) are with Triple-A Rochester in Toledo, with Perkins having thrown a scoreless first inning on Saturday, allowing one hit. Nishioka was scheduled to play on Sunday, and Perkins will throw two innings on Tuesday night in Toledo.

Nishioka is expected to return sometime this week, and Perkins could be back soon as well.

Center fielder Denard Span, on the seven-day DL with a concussion, is “getting better,” McWane said.

Eligible to return on Tuesday, Jason Kubel continues to feel better every day.

“He’s still doing well hitting, [but] he’s still a little bit sore running around,” McWane said. “We’re just progressing him as he tolerates.”