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Updated: April 2nd, 2013 8:13pm
Justin Morneau ‘still young enough’ to post big numbers if healthy

Justin Morneau ‘still young enough’ to post big numbers if healthy

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau has embarked on what is perhaps the most important season of his career.

A contract set to expire in October, an injury-plagued reputation to overcome, and sand funneling through an hourglass -- Morneau is, after all, 31 years old -- all converging at once in 2013.

If Justin Morneau is healthy now and stays healthy all season, what is he capable of?

"I don't put set number goals or anything like that," Morneau said Monday. "The only thing that matters to me at this point is being in the race in September. If I'm healthy I think I can help us have a much better chance to make the playoffs or being in that playoff run, battling for those spots either in our division or those wild card spots, whatever they are. ...

"It's hard for me to answer other than just saying I just want to be healthy and I'll take my chances."

Morneau did miss a few games at the end of spring training with mild back discomfort, but he insists it's minor, and it obviously didn't prevent him from reaching base twice in Monday's season opener.

Last year was a big step. Morneau did spend 15 days on the disabled list in May with lingering discomfort from his offseason wrist surgery, but ultimately he went from talking cryptically about retirement in spring training to playing in 134 games -- his most since 2009 -- and hitting 19 home runs with a respectable .773 OPS.

Those certainly aren't the numbers we grew accustomed to watching Morneau post prior to his myriad of injury issues. He was the best hitter in baseball by almost any measurement the first three months of 2010, hitting .345/.437/.618 with 18 home runs before the All-Star break.

But it isn't unreasonable to assume Morneau will improve on his 2012 numbers if -- always if -- he stays on the field.

"Anything's possible," he said. "I'm still young enough. I think I proved to myself last year that when I'm healthy I feel like I can contribute, and whatever that means I'm not sure, but hopefully it's somewhere around when I was playing 150, 160 games a year and driving in runs and helping us score runs and helping us win ballgames.

"If I help the guys in front of me get pitches to hit, and that's a result of me being in the lineup, then it helps me get guys on base. There's a lot of things that can go along with it."

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.
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In this story: Justin Morneau
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