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Updated: March 18th, 2011 9:50pm
Justin Morneau returns to nighttime, remains noncommittal on opener

Justin Morneau returns to nighttime, remains noncommittal on opener

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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SARASOTA, Fla. -- In his quest to complete the comeback from a concussion, Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau passed another test on Friday at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota -- playing in his first night game since returning from a concussion.

"I just wanted to see how it was," Morneau said about playing under the lights. "It's different. For the most part, (symptoms) have come along later in the day, so when it has it's been later. Just wanted to see what it was like. We play more night games during the season than we do day games, so just wanted to see where we were at. I think it felt pretty good."

Morneau went 0-for-3 at the plate, drawing a walk and striking out twice. He faced left-hander Brian Matusz in his first two plate appearances, left-hander and sidewinder Alberto Castillo in his second trip, and right-hander Jason Berken in his final at-bat.

In the sixth inning, Morneau made a sliding stab of a hard-hit groundball by Nick Markakis, then sprinted to the bag for the force out while narrowly avoiding a collision.

"There wasn't any other thought other than catch the ball and get to first," Morneau said of the reactionary play. "None of the thoughts of 'How did that feel?' even cross my mind. It was one of those plays (I was) happy to make, and hopefully it will remain good."

The tentative plan, Morneau said, is to collect a few at-bats as a designated hitter in Saturday's game against the Rays at Hammond Stadium. Should he play, it would be Morneau's first back-to-back action of the spring.

Morneau has now played in five spring training games, including a 'B' game against the Pirates, and he has collected just one hit in 13 trips to the plate. But his stat line is secondary to his physical well-being at this point.

"Actually, I was pretty unsure how it was going to react once I got down here, but now that I've been out there playing in games, running around, just being part of the team, it's felt pretty good," Morneau said about his symptoms, adding that fogginess -- the main concern prior to spring training -- is now "pretty well under control."

"Especially last week," he said, "playing and then the next day waking up and feeling like if I had to play today, I could play today. I think obviously we're doing the right thing by taking our time. We still have time, but I've been pleased with the progress."

Manager Ron Gardenhire has been pleased as well.

"I know it's all part of the process, but honestly I'm putting him out there because they told me he's ready to play baseball, so I leave it at that," Gardenhire said. "I don't think about anything other than... If they didn't believe he should be out there then he wouldn't be out there. So once they've told me we can put him out there, he's out there. He's out there to play baseball."

"You get to that point where you forget about it. I'm there ... Now it's how many innings they want him to play. I watch that more than I watch anything else. He's just going to play."

"I love to see him out there. I enjoy the hell out of it."

As for his goal over the next two weeks leading up to opening day, Morneau isn't ready to commit 100% to being ready by April 1.

But that doesn't mean he's pessimistic.

"I think part of it's up to the doctors and part of it's how I feel. But they're not going to let me go out there if they don't feel like I can play 12, 14 days in a row. If we're better off waiting a week, we're better off waiting a week. But that's not really my decision. We're going to obviously test here at the end of spring and have me play a few days in a row and see how that goes, and do that kind of stuff.

"I'm hopeful that we'll be ready. It's better to be healthy for X-amount of games, instead of go back too soon and we're dealing with this for a couple months, then we go on the DL in the middle of May because we're not right, and all the rest of it. It's still an ongoing process. It's still take it as it comes and kind of see what happens."

Morneau added, "I don't want to do anything stupid now. We've waited this long, why rush it now? Obviously the goal is to be ready, you want to be ready, and I want to be in the lineup opening day. But as much as I've learned in this process, patience is the key, and being healthy for September and hopefully October is the goal, not rush in just to be ready and then having stuff drag on or still be there."

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
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