Twins' Morales stays focused after surgery

Morales stays focused after surgery

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jose Morales is no stranger to bad breaks.

It began when the catcher was in the middle of his Major League debut for the Twins back in September of 2007. In a contest against the White Sox, Morales delivered three hits in his first three at-bats but he didn't make it through the entire game as he suffered a season-ending left ankle injury while trying to slide into second base.

Months of rehab followed and Morales eventually had to undergo surgery on the ankle the following season. It took more than a year and a half following the injury before he was able to return to the big leagues.

Now, Morales is facing another tough situation: recovering from wrist surgery at a time when his spot on the Major League roster had finally appeared to be secure.

Morales had been expected to be the backup catcher to Joe Mauer when the Twins opened the 2010 season, but that is now in question after he underwent surgery last Thursday to stabilize a tendon in his right wrist. It was a frustrating development for Morales, who sat down at TwinsFest this past weekend to talk about the injury and what it means for him in the upcoming season.

The Twins are still optimistic that Morales, 26, could be ready for Opening Day as they hope he'll be ready to return to baseball activities in mid-March. But while Morales would like nothing better than to break camp with the team, he said that it could be a couple months before he's ready to play again.

"I think it's going to be tough [to be ready by Opening Day]," Morales said. "I think that's a little optimistic."

Morales said the wrist first started to bother him at the end of September last season, following the club's final road trip to Detroit. He played out the final few games, but the wrist was likely affecting his play.

The catcher, who batted .311 on the season for the Twins, went 1-for-10 with five strikeouts in the final three-game series against the Royals and then went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the playoffs. Morales' struggles prompted manager Ron Gardenhire to say that the young catcher looked overwhelmed at the plate.

At the time, Morales didn't want the wrist to be an excuse but he says that it was really hurting him. Still his belief was that with the time off after the season that the wrist would get better.

"I went home and tried to rest it," Morales said. "Then at the beginning of January I started hitting and it was the same pain again. So the decision was made to have surgery."

Having spent each of the previous two offseasons battling back from injury, Morales admitted that it's frustrating to once again have to go through a similar situation.

"It was definitely disappointing," Morales said. "I've been through injuries in each of the last two years. I'm going on my third year with having to come back from one. But you realize that there are some things you can't control and you just try not to think about it too much. Otherwise, I'd just go crazy with it in my mind. Especially when you consider the opportunity that I have this year."

Morales had been expected to take over the backup catcher position that had been previously occupied by Mike Redmond, who the Twins allowed to leave via free agency this winter. Now with Morales' status in question, the Twins could likely have to look to their system for other backup options.

The Twins have two other catchers currently on their 40-man roster -- prospects Drew Butera and Wilson Ramos -- and it's likely one of them will make the team if Morales is indeed not ready. While Butera has long been considered to be the strongest defensively of the two players, Gardenhire indicated during TwinsFest that he might want to take a chance to see what Ramos can do. Ramos, who batted .322 with 12 home runs and 49 RBIs for Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League, was recently ranked the No. 2 prospect in the Twins' organization by Baseball America.

"I know what Butera is, he's a catch-and-throw guy who can catch," Gardenhire said. "And I'm really kind of interested in Ramos. He's caught the Venezuelan National Team. This kid's got some experience with some pitching and so forth. He's a big, strong kid, health is an issue, but we're talking about a backup catcher to Joe Mauer."

Morales got his opportunity to return to the Majors last spring when he broke camp with the club due to Mauer's back injury. While Morales knows another catcher might get the same opportunity due to his injured wrist, he's trying to just stay focused on what he needs to do in his recovery from surgery.

"I've been working my whole life just to get to this point in my career where I get a chance to really prove myself," Morales said. "To get the chance to get a job like this and then realizing I needed surgery, it was hard. But now I just want to get healthy, get back on the field as soon as possible and we'll see what happens."

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