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Updated: March 22nd, 2012 3:36pm
Notebook: DH or 1B? Jury still out on where Justin Morneau will play

Notebook: DH or 1B? Jury still out on where Justin Morneau will play

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In three at-bats against the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, Justin Morneau grounded out, hit a ball hard to left field for an out, and scalded an 0-2 line drive off lefty Dana Eveland right at the third baseman for an out.

It went down as an 0-for-3 in the boxscore, dropping Morneau's spring batting average to .091, although solid contact to opposite field twice in three at-bats is encouraging.

But there's another angle to keep an eye on over the final two weeks of spring training -- the fact that Morneau hasn't played first base in a game since March 13.

Since that date he has been penciled in five times as a designated hitter, and he also took six at-bats in a minor league game on Wednesday as a DH. Morneau's five games at first base this spring (out of 11 Grapefruit League contests, including Thursday) all came prior to March 13.

Twins officials say no decision has been made as to whether Morneau will be the primary DH when the regular season begins or if he will be the starting first baseman.

"I hope he plays in the field more," general manager Terry Ryan told 1500 ESPN on Thursday. "We're trying to get his bat going. ... What we're trying to do is make sure he's got his offense under control. ...

"Groundballs and fielding isn't a problem with him. He's very accomplished on the defensive side. But we are trying to make sure we get his bat going."

If Morneau occupies the DH slot, the Twins do have other options at first base.

Joe Mauer has started two Grapefruit League games and one "B" game at first base. Chris Parmelee has started 11 Grapefruit League games at first base. Ryan Doumit played first base in a "B" game as well, but his Grapefruit League action has been split between catcher and outfield, as the Twins view him as more of an emergency first baseman. Luke Hughes, Sean Burroughs and Trevor Plouffe can all play first base as well.

Morneau said earlier this week his surgically-repaired wrist -- which he ices every day -- still gives him some troubles. But doctors have told him he can't do any damage to the wrist, which is why he keeps racking up the at-bats -- six in a minor league game on Wednesday and 33 in Grapefruit League action.

It's worth pointing out Morneau hasn't posted a spring batting average above .160 since 2009 -- and that includes 2010, when he hit .160/.236/.340 in spring training before going on a tear for the first three months of the season until a concussion sidelined him.

Baker 'felt good' in first start since March 10

Making his first start since elbow tendonitis flared up on March 10, Scott Baker threw two scoreless innings in a Triple-A game Thursday, allowing two hits while striking out one. Baker threw 23 pitches, 15 for strikes.

"I felt good," Baker said. "I felt like there was nothing keeping me from finishing pitches, and that's the main thing. Because when you have a hitter in there, and there's a little extra effort that you can't duplicate in the bullpen, that's when it has a chance to get irritated. I was burying breaking balls, which is a good sign. As long as I'm finishing pitches, then we go from there."

Baker's average fastball during the regular season last year was 91, and at times he ramped up to the mid-90's. On Thursday, his fastball rode mostly between 83 to 86 miles per hour.

"As long as I'm getting outs, I really don't care," Baker said. "I'll pitch to the situation and not try to blow guys away. It's going to be there, I know that. I'm not even remotely worried about velocity right now. ...

"I don't want to discredit that game over there, but you're not getting the adrenaline that you have in a normal atmosphere, a normal major league ballgame. So it's probably tougher for me to really get it cranked up, but it's not that the effort's not there; that's just me. ... Some guys can warm up and throw just as hard in their warmups as they do in the game; that's just not me. I've never been able to do that. So as long as I feel good, everything will come around."

If all goes well for Baker, he will throw a bullpen session on Saturday, then he'd likely start again on Monday.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson acknowledged the Twins could move Baker to the back of the rotation if he's unable to make his scheduled home-opener start on April 9.

Today's result

Orioles 11, Twins 1

• Twins' spring record: 12-9

Carl Pavano was roughed up for six earned runs on eight hits in four innings. He struck out one, walked nobody and gave up one home runs.

• The Twins tallied only five hits offensively. "We've played about six or seven really good ballgames in a row I thought," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But today was just really dead."

Health report

• OF Trevor Plouffe continues to receive treatment on his strained hamstring. He's considered day-to-day, and his injury is not considered a threat to him earning a 25-man roster spot.

Jason Marquis left the team to tend to a family issue, and it's possible he could miss his scheduled start on Saturday.

Numbers game

5: Twins players reassigned to minor league camp on Thursday.

.313: Mauer's batting average this spring after going 2-for-3 with two singles on Thursday.

10: Groundballs induced by Pavano in 19 batted balls, which is a good rate.

5: Line drives allowed by Pavano, which brings his spring line drive rate up to 23% -- not good.

3: Outs recorded by former Twin Pat Neshek, who is attempting to score a roster spot with the Orioles. Neshek induced two pop outs and a strikeout in a spotless bottom of the ninth inning.

.500: Michael Hollimon's spring batting average after going 1-for-1 with a double. Hollimon took groundballs at shortstop with Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire on a side field Thursday morning -- a position he played almost exclusively as a minor leaguer from 2005 to 2008. Hollimon played 25 games at shortstop in the Twins' system last year, and he also plays first base, second base, third base and outfield. Hollimon, 28, owns a career minor league batting line of .254/.352/.461.

"He had the arm problems, then he got his arm fixed," Gardenhire said. "And actually, last year his arm was really not much, and this year his arm is a lot better, to the point where he's serviceable on both sides -- he can go to third, he can go to short. He can swing it, you've seen that."

Overheard

"I wish I could use that as an excuse. That was as ugly as it (expletive) looked."
-- Pavano, when asked if he elected not to show all of his pitches because he knew he'd be facing the Orioles on opening day in two weeks.

On deck

Friday: @ Yankees, 12:05 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano vs. RHP Ivan Nova
Saturday: vs. Rays, 2:05 p.m. RHP Jason Marquis vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
Sunday: @ Cardinals, 12:05 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn vs. RHP Kyle Lohse

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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