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Morneau ends spring home run drought

Morneau ends home run drought with big day

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Justin Morneau's sleepless nights appear to be over. Well, at least for one day.

That's because Morneau, the reigning American League MVP, ended his spring home run drought during the Twins' 7-3 win over the Pirates on Saturday afternoon. In his second at-bat of the game, Morneau took the Pirates' Tony Armas Jr. deep over the right-field fence for a two-run shot.

The Twins first baseman had come close to hitting some long balls this spring, like in a game at Jupiter against the Cardinals when he just missed a home run to center field due to a strong wind blowing into the park. Still, having played 10 games this spring without a long ball had started to get Morneau a tad on edge.

"It kind of eases your mind a little bit," Morneau said of the homer. "I was thinking about it and that's when I get myself in trouble, lying in bed at night thinking about my swing."

The pressure on Morneau to repeat his success of last year is something that he admits has been on his mind a little bit this spring. A slow start offensively in Grapefruit League games didn't help matters either, as Morneau struggled until this past week to get his average above the .200 mark.

All of the early troubles were enough to cause Morneau a few restless nights staring up at the ceiling. But Morneau eventually said he had to remind himself that it is just spring.

"Obviously early, when your swing doesn't feel that good, you start to question yourself just like everyone else," Morneau said. "That happens every year you come in and face live pitching the first day and think you can't hit again. But spring starts going along and you feel better and the confidence starts to come back. You try not to worry about last year."

It's difficult not to think about the past when coming off an MVP-worthy season like Morneau is, having hit .321 with 34 home runs and 130 RBIs in '06 en route to helping the Twins earn the AL Central Division title. And being the type of player to always put high expectations on himself, Morneau isn't about to ease up on himself even after such a remarkable breakout season.

Morneau took big steps to getting his confidence back in full Saturday with his 3-for-3 performance. Over the last four games, Morneau has watched his average rise 145 points, from .167 to .312. The Twins first baseman said that he is starting to feel comfortable at the plate and credited it on the fact that he's been able to deliver hits all over the park.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has also noticed the difference in Morneau over the past week.

"When you see him drive the ball the other way, like that first at-bat when he hit a missile into left center field, that's when you know he's starting to feel better," Gardenhire said. "He's staying on the ball, not trying to do too much, and then the home runs come, just like that. The guy made a mistake, tried to come inside, didn't get it in there and [Morneau] killed it."

It's hard to say that one home run can make that much of a difference in a player's confidence level, but Morneau said that this home run did carry a little extra meaning.

"If I would have gone the whole spring without hitting one, I would have been thinking about it for sure," Morneau said. "So it's just nice to get it out of the way."

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

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