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Updated: March 19th, 2012 4:15pm
Notebook: Justin Morneau still trying to build strength in wrist

Notebook: Justin Morneau still trying to build strength in wrist

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The spring stat sheet looks pretty ugly for Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau.

After going 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout on Monday against the Boston Red Sox, Morneau is hitting just .100 (3-for-30) with two weeks left until the regular season begins.

Time to panic?

Not necessarily. Morneau has reported no significant issues with concussion symptoms, which was his main concern heading into camp, and he has informed the coaching staff that he wants as many at-bats as possible this spring.

But his timing at the plate still hasn't fully come around, and the strength in his surgically-repaired left wrist -- which he ices every day -- still isn't back to 100%. Morneau said he can still feel some discomfort in the wrist when he swings.

"I'm trying to do the right amount of swinging," Morneau said. "I have to swing to build the strength, but if I swing too much, it gets a little irritated, so it's kind of hard. I'm trying to work on my swing, and get the feel back to where I need to be, and if I swing too much, it gets irritated, so it's kind of a fine line. ...

"They told me I can't do any damage to it. It just might slow down the process of feeling good if I do too much, so it's just kind of finding that right balance, I guess."

Morneau has squared a couple balls up over the past few days -- most notably a long line drive that landed foul in the Pirates' bullpen down the right-field line at Hammond Stadium on Sunday. But the results have not been there.

"We've still got two weeks left, so there's still a lot of time for at-bats," he said, "and still a lot of time if I want to go over to the minor-league side if I want to get seven or eight at-bats in a game, I can do that. So, yeah, I'm trying to get my timing back and my strength back, and the only way to do it is to face live pitching. ...

"I think earlier I was a little afraid to kind of let it go, and I've built that confidence in there that (my wrist) is not going to go back to where it was before I had the surgery. So it takes a little while to get that confidence in there. The last few days I think I've just kind of let it fly and hit some balls hard -- hit some balls hard at people, hit some balls hard foul. I guess that's a pretty good sign."

Shortstop help could come from outside organization

Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan made it clear he has no problems allowing Brian Dozier to make the jump from Double-A to the major leagues if Dozier is the best fit for the 25-man roster.

But Dozier is by no means a lock, and the Twins' shortstop options behind him are thin.

Because of this lack of depth, Ryan said there's "a possibility" the Twins could look outside the organization -- via trade, perhaps -- for another middle infielder.

"This is about the time people start to formulate their rosters," Ryan said. "You're going to start knowing who's available, who's out of options, who's available for trade, who doesn't fit. It's always a possibility."

Tsuyoshi Nishioka's demotion to Triple-A on Monday opens the door for Dozier, Sean Burroughs, Luke Hughes and others to secure roster spots.

Nishioka was behind on depth chart

Ryan wasn't making any excuses or withholding any secrets on Tuesday.

Nishioka was optioned to Triple-A Rochester he was "behind some people" on the infield depth chart.

"We've got Carroll, we've got Dozier, we've got Casilla, we've got a few others," Ryan said. "It's just a matter of time for him. We're going to send him down and see if we can get him to relax. He'll play some second and some short down there. some of it's about positioning, you know, transitioning to the game here and let him relax."

Ryan said he wanted to make the move sooner rather than later so Nishioka and his interpreter could get organized and settled.

"You know, now he's got another transition, going to Rochester instead of being in the state of Minnesota," Ryan said. "So we're going to see what we can do to help him along, and he'll be down there with our infield instructor Gene Glynn, which is going to be a good thing, and that's what went into it."

Asked if Nishioka's struggles will change the way the Twins scout in Japan, or anywhere else internationally, Ryan said, "Not really. I don't see it. ...

"I think it's separate from anything with the Japanese vs. the American style. Historically, a player that comes over from Japan, the first year they usually struggle, with the exception of Ichiro."

Today's result

Twins 8, Red Sox 4 from jetBlue Park

• Twins' spring record: 11-8

Jason Marquis allowed three earned runs on five hits in four-plus innings, strikeout two, walking two and hitting another, but he actually showed some positive signs. Marquis induced seven whiffs and 14 fouls out of 35 Red Sox swings. And eight of the 14 balls put in play were grounders. "I worked in my slider and today was the first day I used it," Marquis said. "I wouldn't say excessively, but I felt like it was where I needed it to be. So I was pretty excited about it."

• Right-hander Jared Burton came in to relieve Marquis with a runner on first and nobody out in the fifth inning. He retired Dustin Pedroia for the first out on a liner that Alexi Casilla knocked down, then got Adrian Gonzalez on a fly out and David Ortiz on a strikeout.

Joe Benson drove a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double off the green monster in left field to put the Twins up 5-3 in the sixth inning.

• Burton, Anthony Swarzak, Alex Burnett and Jeff Manship all pitched scoreless innings of relief for the Twins.

Health report

• RHP Scott Baker (right elbow tendonitis) threw a 47-pitch bullpen session on Monday and reported no problems. If his elbow recovers well on Tuesday, Baker will likely pitch in a minor league game on Thursday. After that, he will be in a race against time to ramp up to 100 pitches before the regular season begins.

• OF Trevor Plouffe (strained hamstring) was scheduled to do treatment on Monday, take Tuesday off, then go back in on Wednesday to see how he reacts.

• LHP Phil Dumatrait is day-to-day with a tender left shoulder.

Numbers game

14: Hits for the Twins offense.

1: Bunt single for Ben Revere on Monday. It wasn't pretty -- Revere bunted in the air on one hop to the first baseman. But he beat it out anyway. Revere later ripped a double down the right-field line.

2: Innings pitched by Brian Duensing in a minor league game Monday. Duensing gave up one run on one hit and a walk while striking out three.

On deck

Tuesday: Off day
Wednesday: @ Tigers, 12:05 p.m. RHP Liam Hendriks vs. LHP Andy Oliver
Thursday: vs. Orioles, 12:05 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen

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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