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Updated: July 31st, 2011 1:53pm
Justin Morneau could begin rehab assignment as soon as this week

Justin Morneau could begin rehab assignment as soon as this week

by Phil Mackey
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The Minnesota Twins may be close to adding an impact bat.

Not via trade, but instead with the return of first baseman Justin Morneau, who has been taking batting practice and going through various baseball activities with no issues.

"He's actually doing really good," manager Ron Gardenhire said in an interview with 1500 ESPN on Sunday.

"He's getting pumped up, and as we go through the weekend and get into next week, we're looking at how we can get him into games next week and start playing."

Morneau was placed on the 15-day disabled list on June 14 with a sore wrist, but then elected to undergo surgery in late June to repair a pinched nerve in his neck that was limiting strength in his left arm and hand. The first baseman also suffered through migraine headaches last week -- no relation to the surgery, or to his concussion from last year.

"His neck feels good, his arm feels good, his wrist feels good, and he's had a couple of really good days, past the migraine headaches." Gardenhire said. "We're excited about that. He was pumped up and told me he's living the dream."

After missing the entire second half of last season due to the concussion, Morneau worked his way back during spring training, but sputtered offensively for three months with a batting line of .225/.281/.338 that included only four home runs and 21 RBIs.

Morneau said in June that his production was hindered to the wrist and neck issues, but Gardenhire is optimistic the former MVP could be fully healthy for a stretch run.

"If he's got the use of his left arm, where it's not weak anymore, I'm sure he's better, there's no doubt," Gardenhire said. "And the wrist. Those were two things that were killing him. Now the neck (pain) has been taken away. If we can keep that, and he doesn't do anything to hurt himself when he starts swinging and going through all these workouts again, you'll definitely see a player who has a little more freedom."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Ron Gardenhire, Justin Morneau