Morneau healthy, but far from satisfied

Morneau healthy, but far from satisfied

Morneau healthy, but far from satisfied
MINNEAPOLIS -- Considering all that he went through last season, it would seem easy for Justin Morneau to simply be happy he's back on the field this year.

After all, he played in just 69 games in 2011, after battling concussion-like symptoms and undergoing surgeries on his neck, left wrist, left knee and right foot. And it came after he played in just 81 games the year prior, after suffering a concussion in early July that forced him to miss the rest of the season.

So far, Morneau hasn't completely avoided the injury bug -- he missed 14 games in early May with a minor setback with his wrist -- but has provided plenty of power when in the lineup, with 10 homers and 10 doubles in 40 games.

But Morneau is far from satisfied, as he's quick to point to his .237 batting average as evidence that he's not quite doing enough at the plate.

"I'm starting to get comfortable at first," Morneau said. "I feel good running out there every day, being able to do that is nice, but I don't know, we're still in last place, and I'm not hitting the way I expect myself to hit, so I wouldn't call it successful. I'm not just content being out there every day -- I want to do well. I want to help this team win."

Morneau said the key to moving toward that goal will be finding more consistency at the plate, as he's particularly struggled against left-handers. He's hitting just .094 (5-for-53) with two homers, 18 strikeouts and zero walks against southpaws this season.

"I just don't feel like my approach has been very good," Morneau said. "I've been swinging, I've been chasing a lot of pitches. As soon as they see that, they keep doing it until you force them to throw strikes, and I haven't really forced them to throw strikes."

Morneau has been more aggressive at the plate this season than he has been in years past, swinging at a career-high 56.1 percent of all pitches he's seen, compared to his career average of 50 percent, according to FanGraphs.com

He's also chasing 40.6 percent of pitches outside of the zone compared to his career average of 30.6 percent. It's led to higher number of strikeouts than usual -- he's striking out in 20.7 percent of his at-bats, which is higher than his career rate of 15.3 percent. But the aggressive approach has led to one positive: more power.

Morneau is averaging a homer every 15.2 at-bats, better than his career average of 20 at-bats between blasts.

"He's an aggressive guy. He's going to hack. He's going to swing at some bad ones," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's also going to hurt some bad ones, too. That's the price you pay for being a home run guy and a guy who drives the ball: You're going to swing at a few bad pitches, but you're also going to hit a few that go a long way."

Morneau said he has been pleased by his power numbers, especially considering his wrist issues sapping his power last season, when he hit just four homers in 268 at-bats. But he added that he's not getting on base enough, with his on-base percentage sitting at .302.

"I've been able to contribute that way to at least hit some balls over the fence that have helped us win some ballgames or tie some games up," Morneau said. "If I wasn't doing that, I'd be probably even more frustrated than I've ever been."

But his manager is still pleased to be able to write Morneau's name in the lineup every day without having to worry about the 2006 American League MVP being injured.

Morneau is even back to playing first base after starting out the season as designated hitter for precautionary reasons.

"I just want him playing," Gardenhire said. "He's a force when he's in there. They have to pitch around him; there are times they don't want to throw him strikes because he'll kill you if you do. They try to get him out by staying out of strike zone a lot of times. If he's in one of those aggressive modes, he's going to get himself out a few times. But as I said, that's the nature of being a power hitter."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.