Justin Morneau makes first start, rips three-run double in 'B' game
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Eight months and a day after a concussion ended his 2010 season, Justin Morneau returned to game action on Tuesday morning.
The Minnesota Twins slugger didn't look like he'd missed a beat.
Morneau bounced into a fielder's choice in the first inning, then ripped a three-run double down the right-field line in the third inning of a "B" game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"We figured now is as good a time as any to see if the body is ready for this, and all signs and all the data and everything else points to being ready for this," said Morneau, who hadn't appeared in a live game environment since taking a knee to the head July 7 at Toronto.
"We'll take a day off (Wednesday) and maybe get in a game the day after that, we'll see how we feel. We're going to take it slow and hopefully things go well."
The 29-year-old former American League MVP was a surprise, late addition to Tuesday's "B" game lineup on a back field at the Lee County Sports Complex, because the Twins didn't want Morneau to be hounded by the media beforehand. He replaced Chris Parmelee at first base and batted cleanup behind Delmon Young, who also made his spring debut as the designated hitter after battling turf toe and walked twice.
"When I'm able to play nine innings and go out there and move around normal and go home at the end of the day and not feel like I need a 3-hour nap or anything like that, that's where you're completely back to normal, back to wherever we need to be," Morneau said.
"It's still a process. I played (four) innings over there, and I asked Gardy if it was the eighth. It's one of those things where it's going to take some time to get back into game shape and all the rest of it. But as far as the brain goes, we're hopefully past all the symptoms and all the rest of that stuff. Hopefully, we're where we need to be."
Manager Ron Gardenhire said he plans to give Morneau another chance to play on Thursday, when the Twins have their next home game. It remains unclear when Morneau might make his official spring debut or how much game action the team hopes he'll get before the April 1 opener.
Morneau wore sunglasses on a sunny day -- first pitch was at 10 a.m. Eastern -- but doesn't expect to wear them all the time during the regular season, in part because it's harder to see pitches and ground balls. He also wore a hat in the field, rather than the flapless helmet he's been using during batting practice.
As recently as Sunday afternoon, manager Ron Gardenhire had left the timetable unclear for Morneau's return. But Morneau -- who had been taking batting practice and infield since the first days of spring training last month -- was cleared after discussions with his doctor and Twins general manager Bill Smith on Monday.
"They said it's the same risk as anybody else," Morneau said. "When I heard that, it kind of eased my mind a little bit and let me know that we can go out there and play the game that we love to play."
Morneau's wife, Krista, and 5-month-old daughter, Evelyn were on hand to watch Morneau's return. The closest he came to a collision were a slide into home on Trevor Plouffe's bloop single and a low throw he couldn't scoop out in one of his four innings at first base.
"When they told me he's OK to play baseball, then that's baseball," said Gardenhire, who learned Morneau had been cleared in a phone call from Smith on Monday night.
"It's not, 'Let's not do this, let's not do that.' It's playing baseball, and that's part of it. You've got to be able to slide and the whole package. I just expect him to play the game.
"Do I want him to get in any collisions or anything? No. But I don't really want any of my guys to. So, no nerves, not nervous at all. Just get out and play. Get back and enjoy it. Get back in a routine."
Right-hander Kevin Slowey started the "B" game and was solid, facing the minimum nine batters over three hitless innings and striking out three.
"It was neat that everyone was so excited for (Morneau), including the fans," Slowey said. "As a family in here, we were excited for him and excited to just see he was continuing to progress. I don't know if you read any more into it than he got a chance to get out there, but it was definitely neat to see.