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07/06/10 8:15 PM ET

Morneau declines Home Run Derby invite

TORONTO -- Justin Morneau will not participate in this year's Home Run Derby.

The Twins' first baseman said Tuesday that he declined the invitation from Major League Baseball to take part in the event. While Morneau, who was the winner of the 2008 Derby, enjoyed the event in the past, he felt it was best not to be a participant this year.

"It just gives me a day off," Morneau said of his reasoning. "[I don't] have to prepare like I'm getting ready for a game. You don't want to go out there and embarrass yourself and not be ready and not take it seriously. Then, all of a sudden you go out there and something happens that you can't avoid. It's nothing to do with the swing or anything like that. Just sometimes you want a day off."

Four American League players committed to the Home Run Derby on Tuesday: Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, New York's Robinson Cano, Toronto's Vernon Wells and Boston's David Ortiz are all taking part.

Twins among reported Lee contenders

TORONTO -- Trade speculation continues to grow regarding Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee and according to numerous reports, the Twins remain one of the front-runners.

Minnesota officials will not comment on whether the team is in discussions for Lee. Still, indications are that the two clubs have been talking about a possible swap, although there appears to be nothing imminent.

Many teams are believed to be in pursuit of Lee, who some Major League scouts have labeled as the biggest difference-maker available heading into this year's July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Other teams that have been mentioned as possible pursuers of the left-hander are the Yankees, Phillies, Rays, Rangers, Mets and Reds.

Lee, who will be a free agent at season's end, is making $8 million in 2010. The Mariners would likely want Major League-ready prospects in return for Lee, and the one name that's been mentioned in nearly every possible trade scenario involving the Twins has been catching prospect Wilson Ramos. Seattle is seeking catching help, and Ramos is ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Twins' system.

With Lee's name being linked frequently to the Twins as well as other speculation increasing as the Trade Deadline draws closer, manager Ron Gardenhire was asked if any of the trade rumors have seeped into the clubhouse.

"People read the newspapers, our players read the papers," Gardenhire said. "So if they do, they're going to know. As we always say, there is nothing we can talk about, nothing we can do. Trade rumors are trade rumors. That's in the other part of the game we can't control down here [in the clubhouse], and we're just going to play."

Twins reminded of joys of artifical turf

TORONTO -- Perhaps the best reminder for the Twins of how much they appreciate no longer having to play on artificial turf like they did at the Metrodome is going to a place that still has it.

Such is the case at Rogers Centre, where the Twins opened up a three-game series with the Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire started Jim Thome at designated hitter for the first game of the series but said it's likely he'll rest Thome for the other two games. The artificial surface makes Gardenhire nervous for players who have had health issues in the past.

"This turf scares me," Gardenhire said. "Turf is not good for backs and anything like that. I've already talked to Thome about it and he totally agrees. But we've got two lefties going [in the final two contests], so we'll get the kids out there and mix the lineup up."

Thome said he appreciates the concern Gardenhire has shown for his health all season and he knows that playing on the turf can aggravate previous injuries. Other than a slight case of plantar fasciitis earlier this year, Thome has been able to remain healthy, and both he and Gardenhire hope for it to stay that way.

"Turf is wearing on a body, there is no question about that," Thome said. "These guys can answer that even better. The [Metrodome] was always another place where I had to be real, real careful on the turf. With the history of my back, it's something that I was aware of and I tried not to do too much pregame work. You've got to understand on turf you have to back off a little bit."

First baseman Justin Morneau has acknowledged that he's noticed a change in the way he's feeling heading into the final week of the first half, having spent the time playing on grass at Target Field for all the home games.

"I think it's made a big difference getting off that turf," Morneau said. "My body has felt a lot better -- back and knees and all that stuff."

Worth noting

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the team flip-flopped starts for Carl Pavano and Kevin Slowey not only to give Slowey an extra day of rest, but also to give Pavano an extra outing before the All-Star break. Pavano will now start Sunday's contest against Detroit, which is the final game before the break. Slowey is expected to start the first game for Minnesota after the break. ... In addition to Jim Thome getting a couple of days off in Toronto, Gardenhire said that Denard Span could get a break for one day, as Gardenhire would like to give Jason Repko a start in center. ... Nick Punto was back in the lineup on Tuesday and got the start at shortstop after having two days off. Gardenhire said he'll try to mix Punto into the infield at various spots now that Michael Cuddyer is seeing more time at third base. It was a chance to give J.J. Hardy a break as well, and Gardenhire said he could do the same for second baseman Orlando Hudson. "Hudson will be the hardest one to get a break," Gardenhire said. "I can imagine you'll have lots of arguments with Hudson, and it's hard to sit him on the bench because he talks too much on the bench. He'll be the one giving us all the arguments."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.