Posted at 5:01 AM on September 28, 2006
by David Zingler
Last year at this time, we were trying to figure out what went wrong with Justin Morneau. This year we are handicapping his MVP chances. What is behind this dramatic turn of events?
"I learned a lot from last year," Morneau explained. "(I learned) how to deal with it if I struggle or go through a rough stretch or anything like that. I learned not to be too hard on myself. I learned from experience - facing the different pitchers and the bad at-bats. It's just a different feeling this year; I go up there expecting to get a hit. It's been a lot more fun.
"Maybe I wasn't ready for what happened this year to happen last year," he continued. "I don't think I was. I don't know how I would've handled it. I know this year how to deal with things a little bit (better)."
His newfound stardom has resulted in more attention. Something the often shy, quiet slugger is learning to deal with. "I don't like opening up the paper and reading...quotes about my myself," Morneau admitted. "I don't really like to see myself on TV or anything like that."
Most expected the big Canadian to hit for power and make a run at 30 homeruns, but his batting average, consistently hovering in the .320s has been a pleasant surprise. "In the minor leagues I always hit for average," the 25-year-old commented. "I didn't really start hitting for power in the minor leagues until the last couple of years I was down there. I always wanted to be a good hitter - a complete hitter - that's my main goal. Homeruns are a bonus...if you use the whole field, you'll hit for a higher average."
Like his team, Morneau struggled early and caught fire in June. There are two very different reasons for that, "One of my buddies gave (a Todd Bertuzzi Canucks t-shirt) to me and I started wearing it in June and we starting winning and I started hitting, so I've worn it ever since," he laughed.
There was also a watershed chat with this manager, "(The discussion) had to do with focus and my ability to do better than I was," Morneau stated. "It was more (Gardenhire) telling me that there was a lot expected out of me and that he could see me doing it. It gave me confidence."
Whatever the reason, Morneau is now a leading candidate for MVP, something that surprised even him. "(The MVP) is obviously not something you come into a season (expecting)," the 4-year-veteran pointed out. "Obviously, your goal is always to be the best at your position, be one of the top players, that type of thing. You always want to be the best and have other people recognize you and the team. It's a good feeling to know that people are paying attention to the Minnesota Twins a little bit this year."
Once on pace to top 40 homeruns, Morneau has recently experienced a lull in long ball production. The 6-4 first baseman however, says the bone spurs in his left elbow are not the reason for the dip, "No, I've been having good at-bats," he responded when asked about the tender elbow. "When I get hot, I can hit homeruns -- 10 in a month. At least now I am not making outs, having bad at-bats trying to hit homeruns. I am still having quality at bats, still driving in runs, that's the most important thing. The main thing for me is the RBIs, the homeruns just happen."
The injury dates back to last year, "I never got the (bone spurs) taken out," Morneau commented. "I'll probably get them taken out after this year. They said I didn't really need to, so I opted not to. It was fine for most of the first part of the season. I just know how to deal with it this year, do my exercises, ice it and take care of it. It doesn't get too bad. There's tendonitis in there too. It's the same thing as last year, but this year I know not to take too many swings."
While his elbow may not have completely healed, his relationship with Torii Hunter has been fully mended. The pair got into a highly publicized clubhouse skirmish late last season in which punches are rumored to have been thrown.
"(The incident) was blown way out of proportion," Morneau asserted. "Me and Torii have always been friends. We just had one little disagreement; I guess you would call it. We talked at Twinsfest, put it all behind us. I was as happy as anyone for him when he (hit his 30th) homerun, I know he's been waiting for it. He was happy for me when I hit my 30th. It was amazing to see him get it - how hot he's been the last month."
In a season spent exorcising demons, Morneau slayed an especially ugly one earlier this month when he homered off Yankees reliever Ron Villone. It was the first time he faced the nasty left-hander since an April 2005 beaning to the head sent him to the DL. "That felt pretty good," he admitted. "It was the situation too; it was a one-run game and I hit a three run homer and that was pretty cool."
Because Morneau is arbitration eligible this winter and is likely to place highly on most MVP ballots, a big raise will be in store for him. Don't expect the increase in salary to break up Minnesota's most well known roommates however, "I don't know why we'd change anything," Morneau of his living arrangement with Joe Mauer, "but, that's a along way away."
anybody remember trying to figure out what was wrong with morneau in april and may, also, despite him having hit for a 35 hr /130 rbi pace while batting in the 7th spot in the lineup?
He was batting 7th because that's where he ended the season last yr. I think it was done to "put less pressure on him." Hey, you can't agrue with the results........
of course not. but people were complaining about another disappointing year by morneau when he 'only' hit 10 home runs with 36 rbi after the first two months because he was batting somewhere around .230. that's a problem i wish more of the twins had then