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Updated: July 1st, 2011 6:47pm
Notebook: Morneau regaining strength; Kubel's rehab delayed

Notebook: Morneau regaining strength; Kubel's rehab delayed

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau underwent surgery on Wednesday to remove a fragment of herniated disk from his neck.

Early reports suggest everything went according to plan.

"The doctors were very happy with the outcome," said head athletic trainer Rick McWane.

McWane added that Morneau "demonstrated an increase in strength already, which the doctors felt was a very good sign. He still has some numbness in his finger. It's a little bit better, but we would expect it to take a little bit longer to go away. But the fact that his strength got better was a very good sign."

Morneau will rest at home over the weekend and eventually do some light activities over the next couple weeks.

"He needs two weeks to let the soft tissue heal," McWane said. "There's a couple stitches he needs to get out. Once that's done, in two weeks he can start ramping up his activities as tolerated."

The Twins originally estimated that Morneau's surgery would require six weeks of recovery, making mid-August an optimistic return target.

Kubel's rehab delayed

After tweaking his sprained left foot and being forced to leave Thursday night's rehab game in Fort Myers early, outfielder Jason Kubel will take two days off before possibly DHing for the Single-A Miracle on Sunday.

Per McWane, Kubel "was still a little sore, but not as bad as (Thursday night)" after taking batting practice and running around on Friday.

Kubel was originally scheduled to join Double-A New Britain for three games this weekend before possibly returning to the Twins on Monday, but those plans have changed. Kubel will remain in Fort Myers until at least Sunday, and the team will re-evaluate at the end of the weekend before making any decisions beyond that.

Confidence in Nathan growing

Right-hander Joe Nathan has made two appearances since coming off the disabled list last week. In his first outing, on July 25 against the Brewers, Nathan's fastball sat between 90-92 mph, and he allowed a monster home run to Corey Hart.

Three days later, Nathan looked like a completely different pitcher, striking out two of the three batters he faced while throwing mostly 93-94 mph fastballs against the Dodgers.

Nathan attributes the improvement to his arm feeling more "whippy" in the aftermath of more scar tissue breaking away from his surgically-repaired right elbow.

As for the increased velocity, Nathan said "I don't think velocity is as important as the life and how (the ball) crosses the plate."

Nathan has yet to pitch in back-to-back games for the Twins this season, but he did so with Rochester in the final two outings of his rehab stint.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said "I've got no problem" with pitching Nathan back-to-back days.

"He's ready to go day in and day out, he'll tell you that. So I'm not afraid to use him back-to-back."

Rivera-Liriano connection no more?

While Joe Mauer was sidelined for two months, left-hander Francisco Liriano pitched to catcher Rene Rivera five times, posting a 1.91 ERA with 37 strikeouts and 10 walks in 33 innings.

But Gardenhire has elected to pair Liriano with Mauer for his last two starts, including Friday night's game against the Brewers.

"I know when Joe was gone, each pitcher threw the ball really well, but Joe's our catcher," Gardenhire said. "He's going to be our catcher, and I'm not going to spot with every pitcher that wants their own little catcher. It's not going to work that way.

"Joe Mauer is our catcher, it's going to be that way, and we're going to mix in one or the other, that's why we kept three here, and DH Joe here and there, trying to make sure we can get his bat in for all three ball games each time. But it's not going to be specific guy for specific guy, maybe other than Drew (Butera) for (Carl) Pavano, which we did last year."

Quick hits

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) threw 3 1/3 innings (50 pitches) for Fort Myers on Thursday and reported no issues. He'll travel to Rochester on Sunday and will likely make his next start on Tuesday.

• OF Delmon Young (sprained ankle) is "feeling great," McWane said. Young will travel to Rochester on Sunday to start a rehab assignment and will likely be ready to rejoin the Twins after the All-Star break.

• OF Denard Span (concussion) took part in long toss and running on Friday, and trainers are hopeful he can participate in batting practice sometime soon, "although we don't have a date right now," McWane said.

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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