The last couple of days several of the Twins sports media/bloggers have been raising questions about Justin Morneau. Two factors in particular have been the focus of concern – weak hitting and playing only as DH the last 10 days or so.
The good news is he has been on the field every day playing A games, B games, and minor league games, including traveling with the team sometimes as he did today to Tampa for the Yankees game. No concussion related symptoms have kept him from playing, working out or doing what it takes to get ready for the season.
What is drawing attention is the wrist he had surgery on in the off-season. All reports so far from Terry Ryan and Justin himself indicate that he is not 100% yet, icing the wrist every day after playing. He has been told there is no risk of re-injury by using it, so he continues to work to strengthen it.
Obviously, the wrist is a major contributor to his hitting woes so far. Not only is he not squaring up well enough to get hits, but he also has hit no home runs. The last three or four games he has shown some improvement hitting the ball hard. For example, today he had a long fly for an out and a double over the head of the center fielder. These are good signs.
Timing is also a factor for hitting and Morneau continues to be quoted as saying he is working to improve his timing and hopes to be more consistent by the time the season opens.
Some have been concerned about his DH-ing so much rather than playing first base in so many games, but I think that is an overblown concern. Ryan and Ron Gardenhire have both said they are not concerned about his ability to play first base. They just want him to get on track as a hitter.
In spring games, teams like to see a lot of players in the field. Unless they have players who are DH only, it is less crucial that they see a variety of players in that role. It therefore makes sense that putting Morneau at DH would allow for him to get more at bats per game than he would if he shared time with others at first base. Morneau has made it clear that he wants as many at bats as he can get in game situations and Gardenhire is accommodating him. The manager also does not want to take any chances of his triggering concussion symptoms by going after a foul ball or playing aggressively in the field.
There is still enough time for him to gain strength in the wrist as well as get his timing down before the season starts. Even though no one is declaring him the starting first baseman for opening day yet, I think he is probable for that role then. If he does not make the progress he hopes and his wrist is still bothering him enough that he needs more time, he should be put on the DL and remain in Fort Myers for extended spring training rather than start the season struggling.
In the meantime, I remain hopeful that he will be ready.