Found March 14, 2012 on Fox Sports North:
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CLEARWATER, Fla. Justin Morneau is struggling at the plate, but the Twins first baseman isn't concerned about his offense just yet. After a 0-for-5 performance Wednesday against Philadelphia, Morneau is batting .136 (3-for-22) with five strikeouts this spring. Morneau missed a good portion of the last two seasons after a concussion in 2010 and multiple ailments in 2011. He played just 150 combined games the last two years. Yet the 2006 American League MVP knows there's still plenty of spring left. He says he'll have a better gauge on where his timing is at once he has 40 to 50 at-bats in spring against live pitching. "I think we leave three weeks from today, so that's a lot of at-bats between now and then," Morneau said after Wednesday's 6-4 Twins victory. "Probably the last 10 days, I think, are the most important. Obviously, it'd be nice to be getting hits right now, but it's not my first spring training. I've had good ones before. I've had bad ones before. As long as it's there towards the end, that's all that really matters." Wednesday was Morneau's second straight day in the lineup, as he played first base Tuesday against Toronto in Fort Myers. For Morneau, staying healthy this spring is key. Being able to play back-to-back days or three games in a row, like he did earlier this spring is a sign that he's feeling good. "It's about health. He's got that now," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's just out there hitting. He's the one that wanted to hit again. He wanted more at-bats. Just get him as many as we can, be smart about it and we'll go from there." Morneau struck out twice Wednesday, once against Phillies ace Roy Halladay. He also shattered his bat during two plate appearances. Still, the important thing at this point in spring, Morneau said, is facing as much live pitching as he can even if that means making the trek from Fort Myers to Clearwater. "You spend five hours on a bus, I may as well get as many at-bats as I can," he said. He had one at-bat per hour of the bus ride, if you're keeping score at home. "Now it's just about getting a lot of at-bats," Gardenhire said. "You've got to remember how many games he's missed and how many at-bats he's missed over the last couple years. He's going to be a little bit behind. He's getting live pitching. He's going to have some good days and bad days when the ball's jumping on him a little bit." Marquis sees the bright side: Twins pitcher Jason Marquis allowed four runs in four innings of work during Wednesday's start, but the veteran right-hander was happy with a lot of things in his outing. "I felt like I executed my pitches the way I wanted to today. Obviously, by the amount of ground balls, obviously that shows that," Marquis said. "The change-up felt real good. I'm feeling really good about my delivery and getting everything out front, and the action of the pitches, the quality of the pitches, and that's really all you can focus on right now, you only can control what you can control." Added Gardenhire: "If my pitcher feels good, then I feel good." Following Wednesday's start, Marquis has now allowed nine runs on 14 hits in 8 23 innings (three starts). During those outings, he said he's been throwing only his sinker and change-up for the majority of his pitches. He plans to add his slider and cutter into the mix later in spring. "It's a process. Listen, by the end of spring, your last two starts, you do want good results to get you in a positive frame of mind going into the season," said Marquis, a 12-year veteran. "But being around for so long, having that luxury to work on things, and the team knows what they expect of you, not having to be a young guy trying to impress and make the club and have to come in ready and have all my pitches sharp." Span gets three hits: Twins center fielder Denard Span missed the last four games after experiencing tightness in his neck. But he was back in the lineup as the leadoff hitter Wednesday against the Phillies, and he picked up three hits all singles. Span led off the game with a single to right against Phillies ace Roy Halladay but was thrown out while trying to steal second base. Span singled to left in the third inning and later scored on a three-run homer by Chris Parmelee. Span's third hit of the day came in the fourth inning off Philadelphia reliever Jonathan Papelbon. In his fourth at-bat, Span grounded out to shortstop Jimmy Rollins to finish the day 3-for-4. Willingham hits first homer as a Twin: The Twins signed veteran outfielder Josh Willingham this offseason with the hope he'd provide some power from the right side of the plate. He did just that Wednesday, taking Halladay deep in the first inning for a solo homer to left. Willingham hit a career-high 29 homers last season with Oakland. His homer Wednesday was his first this spring and first in a Twins uniform. "We saw him do that against us. We know he can hit homers," Gardenhire said. "He popped that one pretty good. He had a good day. Pearce out at least a week: Twins infielder Steve Pearce will be sidelined 7-10 days with a calf injury, Gardenhire said. Pearce, 28, left Tuesday's game against Toronto. He's batting 2-for-15 with two RBIs in seven Grapefruit League games this spring. Pearce has played in 185 total major league games in five seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 465 at-bats in the majors, Pearce has batted .232 with a .302 on-base percentage. Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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