ANAHEIM -- First baseman Justin Morneau, who underwent surgery to remove a herniated disk fragment in his neck on June 29, is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester on Friday, according to Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who received the news from general manager Bill Smith.
"He's flying out tonight and heading to Norfolk, Va., to meet the team, and will begin a rehab assignment," Gardenhire said. "I talked to Billy today, and he said that Morneau is champing at the bit and ready to go. So we'll see. I haven't seen him, so I can't tell you anything other than he's ready to go, in his opinion."
Morneau, who started swinging the bat last Friday, and has been taking batting practice and fielding ground balls at Target Field this week, was cleared by the Twins' medical staff to make his return.
Morneau, who is hitting .225 with four homers and 21 RBIs in 55 games this year, was originally placed on the disabled list retroactive to June 10 with a sprained left wrist, before electing to undergo neck surgery later in the month. But Morneau is feeling healthy enough to start playing in games, despite undergoing surgery just a little more than a month ago.
"Physically, Tony Leo, our trainer, says there are no limitations," Gardenhire said. "So we're letting him go."
Gardenhire, though, said he doesn't have a timetable for Morneau's return, as he's not sure how many at-bats he'll need before he's ready to be activated from the disabled list.
"I haven't seen the schedule or what the plans are," Gardenhire said. "I don't know if he's going to play five innings the first day, or two. I haven't seen anything. ... He's really believing that he'll join us really soon, but I'm not buying that."
Travel influences Twins' lineup
ANAHEIM -- The Twins are not expected to return to Minneapolis until 5 a.m. CT on Friday after Thursday night's game at Angel Stadium, so Twins manager Ron Gardenhire kept that in mind when crafting his lineup on Thursday.
He decided to start Joe Mauer at first base so that he can catch on Friday, and started Jim Thome at designated hitter so he could have the night off on Friday.
It marked Mauer's eighth career start at first base, and he's expected to do the same on Saturday, as Carl Pavano is pitching against the White Sox, and Drew Butera is his personal catcher.
"I was going to either play him at first base or not play him at all, but he said he was fine to play first base," Gardenhire said. "He'll be ready to play tomorrow against [Mark] Buehrle and catch. So it gives me an opportunity to give him an off-day from catching today and Saturday, also."
Thome, who missed Wednesday's 11-4 win with a stiff neck, felt better on Thursday. But with the tough travel schedule, he's expected to be held out of the lineup for the series opener against the White Sox on Friday.
"In talking with Jim, he's all right to play tonight. But I don't think with the travel and getting in at 5 a.m. that he'll be able to get up tomorrow and play a game," Gardenhire said. "So Thome is playing tonight, and we'll ad lib tomorrow."
The Twins will also be cautious with Denard Span, who suffered a concussion in a home-plate collision on June 3, as he could need Friday off, too.
"It's a possibility, yeah," Span said. "It depends on how I feel, and how much sleep I can get on that flight and how much sleep I get when I get back to Minnesota. I need to keep Gardy and the trainers posted on how I'm feeling. If I feel groggy, I'll have to tell them maybe it's best if I sit this one out and [recuperate]. So you have to be smart here."
Swarzak's outing impresses Gardenhire
ANAHEIM -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire remained impressed by right-hander Anthony Swarzak's performance against the Angels in Wednesday's 11-4 win, as he threw five scoreless innings in relief of Scott Baker to pick up the win.
"That was much needed," Gardenhire said. "We honestly thought we just wanted him to get through the sixth inning. But he was getting through it really good, and the game started to turn in our favor. So we let him keep going, and only had to use one guy [Glen Perkins] out of the 'pen."
Swarzak has been a pleasant surprise for the Twins this season, posting a 3.20 ERA over 59 innings. He's been solid in his long-relief role with a 3.25 ERA, and also has a 3.16 ERA in five spot starts.
Gardenhire added that Swarzak will need a few days off, however, as he threw 64 pitches over those five scoreless frames.
"We're probably looking at two days, and then we'll see where he's at on the third day," Gardenhire said. "So I'd say no for tonight and tomorrow, and see where he's at Saturday -- but preferably Sunday."