The chronicle of Justin Morneau's battle with post-concussion symptoms is a public one. The questions are always the same, the answers noncommittal. What is not said can speak volumes. And what he didn't say in this question and answer session, with John Shipley of the Pioneer Press, came across loud and clear to me.
Going back to last season both Morneau and the Twins were hedging their bets. Everyone was hesitant to commit to hard deadlines, everyone was consistent when publically talking about the situation in assuring the Minnesota faithful that Justin would get all the time he needs. Management nor the front office ever really put public pressure on Morneau. They would always say that he was their first baseman, while in the next breath mitigating the statement with the word "if".
If his multiple off-season surgeries do what they were meant to do. If the fog clears in his head. If his balance and reaction times are normal. If playing first base doesn't reaggravate something. If the post concussion symptoms are manageable.
Which is all exactly as it should be. You don't mess around with head injuries. But it's all helped build this stigma that now surrounds the Twins in terms of Justin Morneau and his future on the baseball diamond.
As a result, when Morneau says the things he says in his visit with Shipley, it becomes second nature to read between the lines...although the phrase "read between the lines" may imply that the subtext is more subtle than it really is. Here are selections of his responses to Shipley's questions.
"We still haven’t made the decision about what’s going to happen. I think the decision’s going to be based on whatever’s going to give me the most at-bats, whatever’s going to keep me in the lineup every day."
"Whatever’s going to keep me in the lineup..."
"...Whatever’s going to allow me to have 600-plus at-bats and be healthy enough to play 162 games without, you know, playing two days and needing a day off, or whatever it is. We’re not going to go through that whole up-and-down and all the rest of it. I think I can help this team by playing first, but I help us more by being in the lineup every day."
"...there’s no way I’d have that many [spring training at-bats] if I wasn’t taking a lot of them at DH. And I don’t think my swing would be as far along as it is if I hadn’t had all those at-bats at DH."
Notice a recurring theme? You should tell me if I'm wrong, but it certainly sounds like Morneau recognizes the fact that playing first base is not the way to maximize his health and, therefore, his production. He doesn't come right out and say it, but that's not his job. To be fair he also talks about how he feels comfortable at first base and he's been preparing as though he's going to play first base, but the sentiment is overwhelming: to get the most out of him and his bat, the Twins need to DH Morneau.
Justin hasn't been the Minnesota first baseman this spring since March 13. In the fourteen games since, Chris Parmelee has gotten the start six times; Joe Mauer three times; Aaron Bates twice; Ryan Doumit, Sean Burroughs and Luke Hughes all once.
Morneau has appeared in ten games over that span, and seems to feel like his swing is starting to come around. As the Twins' designated hitter over the first five games he was 0-for-16, but in his last five games has gone 8-for-17 with three homers. Obviously we're dealing with exceptionally small sample sizes in spring training, but the evidence certainly supports Justin's claim about his swing.
Getting Morneau in the lineup, and a version of Morneau in the lineup that can produce, has to be of paramount importance to whatever success the Twins will have in 2012. But how would his shift to designated hitter affect the rest of the roster?
It seems likely that the team would turn to Parmelee as their everyday first baseman. Terry Ryan announced last weekend that Parmelee could break camp in that role, and at Twinkie Town on Sunday we discussed potential fallout and how it could actually open the door for Brian Dozier.
In the coming days we're likely to see Morneau continue to see time at designated hitter. In the meantime, watch to see who the Twins trot out to first base.