If at first he can't succeed, Morneau will DH
Avoiding fatigue-related concussion symptoms plays role
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- To DH, or not to DH, that was the question for the Twins and Justin Morneau.
Morneau maintained all winter and into the spring that his goal was to be the club's starting first baseman, saying that if he's healthy enough to serve as designated hitter, he's healthy enough to play first.
But that hasn't been the case in Spring Training, as the four-time All-Star has served almost exclusively as the club's designated hitter, with his last start at first base coming on March 13.
It's given Morneau the chance to play more often and get more at-bats, but now the question is how long Morneau will stick there once the season begins. He's yet to have an official meeting with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire about his status, but he's made it clear that he at least plans on starting the year at DH, especially with first baseman Chris Parmelee on the roster.
"The way it's looking, with Parmelee making the team as a first baseman, I think it's looking more toward DH than first base," Morneau said. "It isn't necessarily something that I want to do, but it's better in the long run in terms of being healthy and available to play every day. That's the biggest thing right now. We'll revisit it later in the season and see how everything has recovered, with all the various things I've been through."
W: Arrieta (1-0) L: Pavano (0-1)
SV: Johnson (1)
The Twins have been happy with what they've seen from Morneau this spring, as he's yet to miss a workout or a game due to injury. And after a slow start, Morneau's timing came back and he started to hit with his usual power.
It's a far cry from last season, when the former American League MVP played in just 69 games after battling concussion symptoms and undergoing surgeries on his neck, left wrist, left knee and right foot.
Morneau, who suffered his initial concussion in July 2010, said he hasn't been plagued by any of the concussion-related issues that re-occurred last year and ended his season in late August.
But he added that he was told by doctors that those symptoms are less likely to come back if he stays at DH, because the symptoms are closely tied to his fatigue level.
"The chance of going backwards is when I get worn down," Morneau said. "I can have the fogginess and the headaches, and all that stuff can return if my system gets too worn down. Then I'm in a vulnerable position. People will say, 'Well, you're playing the what-if game.' Well, I'd rather be healthy than sit there and question everything I'm doing.
"It's one of those things where, 'Am I in the clear?' Yes. But is there still a possibility in the end that things could go backwards? A very, very small possibility. So I think that's kind of where the DH thing is based."
One thing that has made it easier for Morneau to move off first base has been the emergence of Parmelee. Parmelee, 24, hit .355 with four homers in 21 games as a September callup and carried it over into a strong spring.
The Twins like what they have in Parmelee, while players such as Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit, Luke Hughes and Trevor Plouffe have experience playing first base. So if Morneau serves as designated hitter, the Twins have no shortage of options.
"We'll adjust if we have to," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "You always have to adjust. We have adjusted a lot in the last 12 months. Any time you have issues like injuries, you gotta be ready to adjust. As long as you've got people that you can go get and people who can step in, it makes the adjustments a heck of a lot easier."
Morneau, however, has still left the possibility of playing first base open, as he's been taking ground balls at first base before Grapefruit League games.
And as Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pointed out, Morneau will have to play first base if he wants to see action on the road in Interleague Play.
"We're not worried about him playing first base," Gardenhire said. "He takes ground balls. He'll play first base one way or another. If he wants to play in National League games, he'll have to play first."
So there's still a good chance that Morneau sees action at first base this year, even though he'll start the year as the designated hitter. And as Morneau pointed out, he doesn't want this to be a permanent move.
"I feel relatively young in this game, so I don't plan on DHing for the rest of my career," Morneau said. "I want to get back to playing first. Hopefully this is just the first step in that process."