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Updated: March 3rd, 2012 3:42pm
Notebook: Mauer, Morneau productive in spring opener victory over Rays

Notebook: Mauer, Morneau productive in spring opener victory over Rays

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Perhaps more importantly than the result of Saturday's spring opener over the Tampa Bay Rays -- a 7-3 win at Hammond Stadium -- was the fact that Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span all started and contributed.

Small steps, but necessary ones for an injury-plagued team that lost 99 games in 2011.

"I'd rather have them (playing) like April 3. It's the first day of spring training," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But like everybody else, its' nice to see them out on the baseball field playing and feeling good. Absolutely."

After falling behind 2-0 early on a Matt Joyce two-run homer off Carl Pavano, Mauer's RBI single in the third inning brought the Twins within one. Morneau's shift-beating RBI single to left field tied the game 2-2 in the fifth.

Mauer finished 1-for-2 with a strikeout in his only other at-bat. Morneau went 1-for-3 with a pop-out and strikeout in his other at-bats.

Pavano wound up throwing 25 pitches over two innings, allowing the two earned runs on three hits and no walks while striking out one.

Tests keep coming for Span

Span made a back-tracking, falling catch on the warning track in the third inning. He crashed to the ground and got up slow, but stayed in the game. Span later fell down while battling the sun to make a catch in the fourth inning. "

"There was everything," he said. "We had a high sky, cloudy day, fans behind the backstop wearing white, you've got the sun, you've got the wind, we had everything. It was definitely a good test for Game 1. A confidence-builder for Game 1."

Of course, Span also crashed face-first into a side-field fence earlier in the week, but came out OK. "I'll tell you, I'm trying to test this thing out, get everything out of the way, man," he said. "I'm just running, I'm just crashing, running into everything right now."

Offensively Span finished the game 2-for-3 with two singles. He grounded out in his only at-bat against Price.

"I felt pretty comfortable once David Price got out of the game. First at-bat, I was like... I was about ready to hang myself; first at-bat of spring training."

Morneau says wrist getting stronger

Asked about the condition of his surgically-repaired left wrist -- which he classified as being at about 90% two weeks ago -- Morneau said, "Today was a pretty good test. ...

"Swing, don't swing for a good half hour or 40 minutes, then go back out there and heat it up again. Hot, cold, hot cold kind of thing. They said that's going to last for a little bit, getting a little stiff, but being down here at 85 degrees, it seems to stay pretty loose."

Morneau said it's possible the wrist could stiffen a little when the Twins play in cooler weather down the road, but "we'll wrap it up," he said. "I've been pleased with how it's felt and how it's reacted. It's continuing to get better and stronger as every day goes by."

Quick hits

• Shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka had a nice day offensively, going 2-for-3 with a single and a triple.

• Right fielder Josh Willingham didn't show a lot of speed on B.J. Upton's third-inning gapper off Brian Duensing. He took an angle to cut the ball off, but it rolled all the way to the wall, turning what probably should have been a double into a stand-up triple.

Numbers game

196: Games remaining for the Twins until October.

3: The number of extra-base hits Danny Valencia hit to opposite field in 2011. Valencia drove a double to the gap in right off righty Dane De La Rosa in the fourth inning on Saturday.

5: Extra-base hits for Nishioka last season, all doubles.

3: Strikeouts for left-hander Matt Maloney in one inning of work.

0: Walks issued by seven Twins pitchers.

4: Players who will stay back at Hammond Stadium and take batting practice on Sunday: Mauer, Morneau, Willingham and Span.

Health report

• SS Jamey Carroll was grazed in the side of the helmet by a David Price fastball in the first inning, but he stayed in the game. "I think I turned enough, and the way it hit me, the impact knocked the helmet off more than it impacted my head," he said. "So perfect timing. Thankful timing."

• INF Luke Hughes (shoulder) will DH in Sunday's game against the Red Sox.

Overheard

"You might see another one this year."
-- Pavano, referring to the home run he allowed to Joyce.

On deck

Sunday: (split squad) @ Red Sox, 12:35 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano vs. TBD
Sunday: (split squad) @ Rays, noon, RHP Terry Doyle vs. TBD
Monday: vs. Red Sox, 6:05 p.m.
Tuesday @ Rays, 12:05 p.m.

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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