Updated: July 17th, 2012 12:27am
Justin Morneau credits recent success with increased cage workload

Justin Morneau credits recent success with increased cage workload

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
Email | Twitter
SportsWire Daily

Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports

Signup!

MINNEAPOLIS -- After belting 10 home runs in his first 38 games, Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau went missing for a stretch prior to the All-Star break.

From June 9 to July 5, Morneau saw his batting average drop from nearly .250 to under .230, his slugging percentage plummet from .513 to .431, and his RBI total stall out indefinitely.

Yes, he was playing every day -- mostly first base, which was a good sign considering his trepidation in spring training -- but in June Morneau was just a shell of the hitter that appeared to be well on his way to a monster comeback season through the first two months.

A June swoon? Something health-related? Both? Neither?

Whatever the cause for his lull, Morneau's slump has morphed into a hot streak -- something that tends to happen from time to time in baseball. 

Over the last three weeks Morneau has strung together a 14-game hitting streak, culminating with a four-hit, two-double performance against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday night that raised his batting line to .257/.318/.450.

Two of those hits were solid pokes to opposite field, which is an area opposing defenses frequently leave unguarded more often than not for the lefty slugger.

"He hit some Ichiros the other way, which is a good thing," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They're playing a shift on him, and he's slapping the ball around, taking advantage of how they're trying to pitch him."

Morneau chuckled when told of Gardenhire's use of the term, "Ichiros."

"I'm just trying to take what they give me," Morneau said. "When I'm going good I'm using the whole field. It seems like there's more holes on that side of the field, especially when that shortstop is playing behind second. ... I wouldn't say I'm trying to hit the ball over there, but if the opportunity presents itself -- if they throw something over there -- that's kind of the way I've always hit. ...

"I've been putting in the work, and it's nice to see those results. Obviously those (four-hit) nights are few and far between, but that's what you hope for as a hitter is a good day like that. ... I've got to keep working hard, keep trying to get back to being the hitter I want to be."

The work Morneau speaks of is a return to his usual increased number of reps in the cage, which is something he wasn't able to do until recently.

"I've increased it the last couple weeks," Morneau said. "I Actually started doing my program that I usually do in the offseason that I just haven't been able to do. But I'm starting to feel better -- doing the stuff that gets me back to where I want to be mechanically. So I've been doing more than I'd normally do at this point in the season, but it's something that has to be done."

Due to offseason wrist surgery and lingering concussion issues, Morneau didn't start hitting until two weeks before spring training this past offseason. Even when he started taking cuts he was limited with the amount he was allowed to take.

A two-week stint on the disabled list due to some wrist discomfort slowed Morneau in early May, but all of his major health issues seem to be in the rear-view mirror, at least for now.

"I always make the joke to (hitting coach Joe) Vavra -- the only way to get better at hitting is by hitting. Sometimes you can overdo it, which I've learned.

"It's reacting well. The body's been holding up. ... (I'm) healthy enough. I don't think anybody is healthy in the room that plays every day. But yeah, healthy enough to go out there and play every day."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. 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
5111