Morneau done; Crede could be next

Updated: September 15, 2009, 12:57 PM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

Already struggling to catch the Tigers in the American League Central, the Minnesota Twins received another setback Monday when a CT scan revealed first baseman Justin Morneau has a stress fracture in his lower back. He will miss the rest of the season.

Morneau
Morneau

Morneau has been bothered by a sore back for about a month and after an MRI showed fluid buildup on Sunday the team sent him in for a CT scan Monday. The scan showed the stress fracture in the L5 vertebra in his lower back. He said he'll have to rest the back for three months but said surgery is not necessary.

"It's one of those bad news/good news things," Morneau said while standing by his locker after the Twins rallied for a 6-3 victory over Cleveland at the Metrodome. "I'm being shut down for three months but it's also something that should heal on its own."

Morneau, the 2006 MVP, played through a sore back last season but he said the pain was sharper this time. He said it has been hurting him for three weeks to a month. He is hitting .274 with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs but his average has declined since near the end of July. He hit .220 in August and was batting just .077 (3-for-39) in September. He said it hurt most when he swung and missed.

"I think I was doing more harm than good to the team and myself by going out there," he said. "So I figured maybe it was time to get it looked at and find out if maybe there was more going in there."

Morneau said he asked whether there was anything he could do to speed the healing process but the doctor told him that he just had to wait for Mother Nature to run its course. "I can ride the bike but he said no running. I can lift weights but no squats or anything that puts pressure on the spine."

Manager Ron Gardenhire said Michael Cuddyer will play first base in Morneau's place. Cuddyer hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth Monday to rally the Twins from a 3-0 deficit. He is hitting .273 with 25 home runs and 75 RBIs.

Thanks to the late rally, the Twins remained 5½ games behind Detroit. Minnesota has seven games remaining against the Tigers, including three this weekend at the Metrodome. Morneau said he'll be on the bench to cheer on his teammates during the final stretch.

"We just have to continue playing," Gardenhire said. "It's not easy. It's tough. But we can't do anything about it. We still have a job to do and we'll have to do it without him. We'll play the season out and hopefully be able to catch those guys."

The Twins also believe third baseman Joe Crede is through for the year.

Crede came off the disabled list last week, but he felt well enough to start only one game: He went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on Sunday. Manager Ron Gardenhire hadn't received official word from the team's medical staff, but the manager said Crede probably wouldn't be able to play anymore this season because of a back problem that flared up this summer.

"He tried. It's just not going to work for him," Gardenhire said.

After a second major surgery on his back, Crede recovered in time to sign a one-year, incentive-laden contract with the Twins shortly after spring training began. He gave them the good glove and power they expected -- 15 home runs in 333 at-bats -- but he has been bothered by a bunch of injuries.

The back strain, though, was the most devastating given how many problems he's had throughout his career.

"He was pretty much bummed out," Gardenhire said.

With 367 plate appearances, Crede will make $4 million this season -- including an extra $1.5 million in plate-appearance bonuses.

Jason Kubel was also on the bench Monday for the second straight game because of a sore neck but hit a two-run homer in the eighth as a pinch hitter.

Even rookie Justin Huber couldn't escape the injury bug. He hurt an oblique muscle swinging during batting practice and was scratched from his designated hitter spot. Matt Tolbert was inserted at third base, with Brendan Harris moving over to DH.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com