Twins optimistic despite injury questions

With spring training just under a month away, the Minnesota Twins are still unsure if a handful of their star players––including catcher Joe Mauer and first baseman Justin Morneau––will be healthy to begin the season. Still, General Manager Terry Ryan remains confident in his club.

General manager Terry Ryan said Friday the Twins appear in "pretty good shape" heading into February. Still, there are a lot of questions to be answered regarding the health of some of the team's best players.

Whether centerfielder Denard Span (concussion), first baseman Justin Morneau (concussion), catcher Joe Mauer (leg weakness, knee) and right-handed pitcher Joel Zumaya (elbow) will be ready for spring training are major issues for manager Ron Gardenhire.

Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 18, with the first full-squad workout set for Feb. 24. All four of those players will be needed if the Twins are to shake off a 99-loss season and compete for the AL Central title in 2012.

Mauer, 28, says he has recovered from neck and leg issues, plus the pneumonia that ended his season early. Morneau, 30, and Span, 27, say they're optimistic but can't declare themselves fully fit until they actually start playing baseball.

Zumaya, 27, hasn't pitched in the majors since shattering his elbow June 28, 2010. Ryan says he's "probably the biggest question mark going into spring training regarding what he'll be able to provide for us." The Twins signed him to a one-year, $850,000 deal that includes $900,000 worth of incentives.

Gardenhire said being healthy is one thing; just as important is actually playing in spring training. Last season, Mauer and Morneau barely played any Grapefruit League baseball because of lingering issues from 2010. Many other veterans, such as departed outfielder Delmon Young (turf toe) and left-handed starter Francisco Liriano (shoulder), missed major practice time and came out of the gates rusty.

"I was under the control of a lot of doctors last year," Gardenhire said. "I really hope that I have control at spring training this year where I can get the guys ready like I've been able to do for as long as I've been in the game. That's my big goal this year: to get to spring training and have control of these guys and not having doctors tell me how many innings they can play and how many days they can play a week.

"I would like to be able to control that and that's hopefully what we'll get to in spring training."

Twins Notes & Quotes

  • 1B Justin Morneau and some of his teammates got a dose of perspective Friday from Jack Jablonski, the suburban Minneapolis high school student who was paralyzed Dec. 30 during a junior varsity hockey game. Morneau, C Drew Butera, RHP Matt Capps, RHP Jason Marquis and LHP Glen Perkins visited Jablonski, 16, at his Minneapolis rehab facility.

    "It was amazing to see how positive he was," Morneau said. The players, in town for TwinsFest, each reached out separately to Jablonski, whose story has grabbed headlines throughout North America. "They said he'd never move his left arm, but we were in there watching him do rehab and he's moving his left arm, and shaking our hands with our right hands," Morneau said. "It's amazing to see how excited and how positive he was. ... I think a lot of guys left there speechless just seeing everything he's gone through and how positive he was. We all talked about how we'd react if we were in that situation and how positive he seems to be doing."

  • RHP Nick Blackburn said surgery to relieve stress on a nerve in his forearm was a success. He said on Jan. 27 that he has thrown "four or five bullpens, and everything's felt healthy." Blackburn's 2011 season ended Aug. 21 when he left a start against the Yankees after giving up a hit and four walks in 1 1/3 innings. At the end of September, doctors went into his forearm and cut away some muscle that was irritating a nerve. By the end of his season, Blackburn said, he couldn't rotate his right wrist. It ended a disappointing season for Blackburn, who finished the year 7-10 with a 4.49 earned-run average.

    Asked if the injury played a role in his performance, Blackburn said, "It's really tough to say. I don't think I was totally healthy before everything went completely south in that Yankees game," he added, "but the changeup started flattening out a month or two before that. That was a sign, you know?"

  • The Hall of Fame ring and 1969 AL MVP trophy of late Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew will be on permanent display at Target Field starting this season. Killebrew died of esophageal cancer last May.

  • Minor league director Jim Rantz said top prospect Miguel Sano will likely start the season at Low-A Beloit in the Midwest League. Sano, 18, hit .292 with 20 HR and 59 RBI in 66 games in the Appalachian Rookie League last season. "He had a heck of a year, obviously," Rantz said. "He hit all those home runs in half a year, really." Signed as a SS, he continues to add weight to his 6-foot-3 frame and has moved to 3B, where Baseball America has named him baseball's No. 2 prospect at that position.

  • The Twins have put in a bid to host the 2013 Big Ten baseball tournament at Target Field, team president Dave St. Peter said. If they win, it would mark the first time the tournament has been held at a major league park.

  • Five-time AL All-Star Camilo Pascual has been elected to the Twins Hall of Fame. He will become the club's 24th member when he is inducted July 14 prior to the Twins' game against Oakland at Target Field. From 1961-66, he was 88-57 with a 3.31 ERA with the Twins and became the team's first 20-game winner in 1962.

  • By the Numbers: 2.2 million – Tickets sold for the Twins' 2012 season as of Jan. 27, putting the team on pace for nearly 24,000 full season-ticket packages.

  • Quote to Note: "I coughed, twice. You can print that. That's about as far as we need to go with that." -- Manager Ron Gardenhire describing his reaction to AL Central rival Detroit signing 1B Prince Fielder.

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