Justin Morneau still not 100 percent

Updated: February 21, 2011, 6:53 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- First baseman Justin Morneau says he is feeling better seven months after a concussion ended his season, but he likely will not play in the Minnesota Twins' first stretch of spring training games while he works his way back.

Morneau

Morneau spoke Monday, a day before Twins position players are due to report. He says he is still not quite 100 percent from the injury that occurred in Toronto last July 7. He has been swinging a bat, taking grounders and going through all of his usual baseball activities.

"There was the goal of the playoffs, and there was the goal of all the rest of it, but it's been a battle all winter," Morneau said Monday, a day before Twins position players were due to report for spring training. "We've done everything, I think, possible to try and take care of this thing and be ready. But whenever it's ready, it's ready."

Twins general manager Bill Smith told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark that while Morneau is "still a work in progress," there are "no issues or restrictions" that should prevent him from being ready by Opening Day.

"That's our goal -- April 1, Opening Day," Smith said Monday. "We're just being cautious."

Morneau still feels a little foggy on occasion after a strenuous workout, which is why he isn't speaking in absolutes when it comes to his timeline anymore.

"Wouldn't say it's 100 percent yet, but I think it's as close as I can get," Morneau said. "It's just trying to get over that final hump."

While Morneau said he will probably sit out "the first four or five games" of the spring depending on how he feels, Smith told Stark that the team's plan is to hold Morneau out of spring games "for at least the first week or 10 games."

"We don't want a roller coaster," Smith told Stark. "We don't want him to have good days and bad days. We want just good days. So there's no timetable. We've pledged patience -- to his agent, to his doctors and to his family. And we're not going to rush this."

Doctors have yet to clear Morneau for full game activity, but he is able to face live pitching in batting practice and go through the rigors of a daily spring training workout.

The real tests will begin Wednesday, the first day of full-squad workouts. Morneau is eager to see just how much progress he has made. He has been swinging a bat, taking grounders and working out in his offseason home in Arizona, but now is when he'll get going full speed.

"However long it takes, it is what it is," Morneau said. "As much as we'd like to be ready to play [games] today, it's got its own timeline. It hasn't ever been up to me."

He plans to wear a helmet during batting practice -- both in the field and in the batting cage -- until he is completely cleared. Once he is, he will wear the newer, more protective batting helmet at the plate. But he said he doesn't plan to wear one in the field.

"If something crazy happens before we're cleared, it might be a bad situation," Morneau said. "Odds of that are very slim, but may as well not take that chance, so I think we'll do that. When it comes to game time and I'm cleared, I'll be out there, hopefully, playing like everyone else."

Morneau was having an MVP-caliber season -- .345, 18 homers, 56 RBIs -- when he got hurt against the Blue Jays in July, and the Twins sorely missed his bat in the lineup and his calming presence in the clubhouse during a three-game sweep by the Yankees in the postseason.

Catcher Joe Mauer knows how eager Morneau is to return, so the catcher has been gently reminding his good buddy to take things slow in the early going.

"Let's make sure he's ready for April," Mauer said. "If he comes out and takes it easy in spring, I'm fine with that. I'd much rather have him hitting and playing in games in April than in February or March."

Said Smith, "It doesn't matter what he does in March. It doesn't matter if he hits two homers or 22 homers. April 1 has been our target from day one. The same with [closer] Joe Nathan. That's what we're building toward -- April 1."

Nathan had Tommy John surgery last March and missed the 2010 season, but the 36-year-old four-time All-Star is back on track this spring to regain the Twins' closer role.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com senior Major League Baseball writer Jayson Stark was used in this report.