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Updated: March 24th, 2012 5:52pm
Notebook: 'Hard work is starting to pay off' for Justin Morneau

Notebook: 'Hard work is starting to pay off' for Justin Morneau

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Justin Morneau's swing has arrived.

Entering Saturday's game with just four hits in 37 at-bats (.108), Morneau connected for two home runs off Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson -- his first two spring training home runs since March of 2010.

The first blast came with two outs in the bottom of the first inning, when Morneau drove a 2-1 fastball high over the fence in right-center field for a two-run shot.

Three innings later, this time with two runners on base, Morneau used the same power alley to drive a Hellickson changeup over the fence.

Morneau also mixed in a walk to go along with the two home runs and five RBIs, and he could barely erase the grin from his face when speaking to reporters.

"It feels good," Morneau said. "It'd be nice to have it (happen) on opening day. It's one of those things where you don't necessarily need to hit home runs to know where you're at. I think that ball that I hit to center (on Friday) that didn't get out was as good a swing as any I've had all spring. And when you take a swing like that it kind of lets you know you're getting close to where you want to be. Today was just a better day. It feels good and lets me know the hard work is starting to pay off."

Morneau's power stroke showed signs of life in Tampa on Friday when he ripped a double over the head of center fielder Curtis Granderson. He also said his wrist has shown improvement over the last few days, as evidenced by the extra swings he took in the batting cage prior to Saturday's game -- something he "probably couldn't have done ... two weeks ago."

Morneau also admitted he was getting frustrated at times this spring while waiting for his timing to come around. He also knows it's a process.

"I mean, we're all competitive," Morneau said. "We're all athletes. We've all been successful in the past, otherwise none of us would be in this room. Obviously you want to be there at once, but I think it helps that I've been around for a while now and know that, if I'm healthy, I trust myself that it's going to come."

Playing 1B not 'do or die' for Morneau

Morneau has been the designated hitter in the last seven games he has played -- partially because he's able to get more at-bats as a DH, due to mid-game substitutions at defensive positions.

Asked if he'd like to play in the field a couple times before spring training ends, Morneau said, "I think I would."

"I mean, I'm pretty comfortable over there. Obviously it's a little different than DH'ing; you need to build your legs a little bit more. It's one of those things where I'm pretty familiar with most of the hitters in our league, and kind of know positioning and all the rest of it. And I spent time over there early learning our pitchers and all that stuff, so yeah, couple days would be nice. But I don't think it's do or die."

He added, "I mean, there's no way I would play four days in a row if I was playing six, seven innings in the field. You don't do that this early in the spring. So this is probably the best way for me to get my timing, and get back to the swing feeling good."

Parmelee having 'quite a spring'

With Morneau currently DHing on a regular basis, the door appears to be open for first baseman Chris Parmelee to make a push for the 25-man roster.

Parmelee, who started in right field on Saturday, went 1-for-4 with a home run and a walk in Saturday's game. In the bottom of the third inning, with runners in scoring position and one out, Parmelee fell behind Hellickson 0-2, but drove in a run two pitches later with a hard groundball to first base.

"Parmelee is having quite a spring," general manager Terry Ryan said. "You start to say, 'Jeez, how are we going to get that bat in the lineup?' He's a first baseman and an outfielder. He can play both."

Ryan added, "If he's going to make this club, (outfield) gives him another avenue to certainly contribute."

New outfield alignments

Josh Willingham started his second straight game in left field after playing right field for the majority of spring. Willingham has played exclusively left field in the regular season the last two years.

In the fifth inning, Joe Benson subbed into left field and Ben Revere into right field, joining center fielder Denard Span to temporarily create perhaps the fastest outfield in baseball.

Despite Revere's poor arm, manager Ron Gardenhire has shown no hesitation playing Revere in right field. Revere played only 37 innings in right field last year, which is too small of a sample size to judge, but in Revere's 776 innings in center field opposing baserunners took an extra base 56 times in 89 opportunities (63%).

By comparison, baserunners took the extra base 55% of the time against Orioles center fielder Adam Jones. Baserunners advanced 56% of the time on Rays center fielder B.J. Upton.

As for right fielders, Jeff Francoeur is widely considered to have one of the strongest throwing arms, and baserunners take the extra base (usually first to third) only 47% of the time. He also threw out 11 baserunners. Revere threw out three from center field.

Over the course of a full season, the difference between 47% and 63% can be about 25 extra bases.

Today's result

Twins 19, Rays 4

Twins' spring record: 13-10

Luke Hughes went 5-for-5 with a homer, two doubles and four RBIs, raising his spring batting average to .361. With roster spots up for grabs over the final 10 days of camp, Hughes picked a pretty good time to go off. He credits playing in the Australian Winter League with helping him get ready. "Every at-bat I have in the offseason gets me closer to where I need to be in spring training," Hughes said. "It's what I like doing, getting home, taking a couple months off and getting 60, 80, 100 at-bats down there is perfect for me."

• Aside from Morneau and Hughes, Jamey Carroll (3-for-4, 2 R, RBI), Joe Mauer (2-for-4, 2 R), Denard Span (1-for-3, 3B, BB, 2 RBIs) and J.R. Towles (2-for-3, HR, 2B, 3 R, 2 RBIs, BB) all had big days at the plate.

• LHP Matt Maloney added two more scoreless innings to his scoreless spring, including a three-pitch strikeout of Evan Longoria.

Numbers game

.333: Mauer's spring batting average.

.316: Parmelee's spring batting average.

10: Hits for the Twins with runners in scoring position (in 17 at-bats).

26: Baserunners for the Twins (18 hits, seven walks, one error).

3: Hits for Tsuyoshi Nishioka in a Triple-A game down the street on Saturday.

Health report

• RHP Scott Baker (elbow) is expected to throw about three innings in a minor league game on Monday. His status for the start of the regular season remains up in the air. "Everything is in order," Ryan said. "I'm anxious to see it, because we certainly are trying to get him going. He's healthy. Everything is in order so we'll get him out there."

• OF Trevor Plouffe (hamstring) will likely see some at-bats in a minor league game over the next couple days. He has been running sprints in the outfield with no apparent issues.

• RHP Jason Marquis missed his start Saturday due to a family issue that has kept him away from the team all week. He was scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday in order to keep his arm strength up.

• 2B Alexi Casilla has been unavailable the last couple days with a family issue as well.

On deck

Sunday: @ Cardinals, 12:05 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn vs. RHP Kyle Lohse
Monday: vs. Rays, 12:05 p.m. RHP Scott Baker vs. RHP Jeff Niemann
Tuesday: @ Orioles, 12:05 p.m. RHP Anthony Swarzak vs. TBA

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
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