FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) – Twins first baseman Justin Morneau took his next step toward being ready for opening day.

The 2006 AL MVP went 0 for 2 in his spring training debut as Minnesota beat a Boston Red Sox split squad 3-2 on Friday.

Morneau played in a “B” game earlier this week, but this was his first Grapefruit League action since he sustained a season-ending concussion last July 7. He missed the final 78 games of the year.

“Once I took the field, I felt good out there,” Morneau said. “I feel like I’m a little behind everyone else, just from not
being out there.”

Also See: Lester Shrugs Off Opening Day Talk

Morneau struck out swinging and reached base on an error by Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford, with both at-bats coming against ace left-hander Jon Lester.

Twins left fielder Delmon Young also played in his first spring game after coming back from a turf toe injury. He went 1 for 2.

Lester struck out five in four scoreless innings, scattering four hits and walking none. He is in line to be Boston’s opening day starter, although no announcement has been made by the team.

“I want to see as many lefties as I can, to tell you the truth,” Morneau said. “The more times you can see him — he’s one of the best lefties in the game — the more you can learn. He’s about as good as left-handers go. He’s a tough at-bat.

“It’s also good because you’re focusing on trying to figure out the at-bat instead of thinking about what you’re trying to do. It gets your mind off it.”

Asked about his approach to facing Morneau, Lester began with a four-word answer.

“To get him out,” Lester said. “It’s the same approach every time I’ve faced him. The thing that makes it tough is he’s able to cover a big part of the plate. He’s able to do some damage to both sides of the field. Just to be able to get him out is obviously good.

“You don’t want to see guys, regardless of what injury it is, go through stuff like that. It’s good to see him out there. It’s good to see him out there playing. Hopefully he doesn’t have any more effects from it.”

Lester, who went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA in 32 starts last season, said he has not put much thought into potentially starting on opening day.

“I feel like I’m on track and everything is going in the right direction,” said Lester, who has yet to give up a run this spring. “We’ve still got a long way to go. Whoever gets the ball, it’s going to be a big honor. If it doesn’t happen, it’s no big deal.”

Morneau, who was hitting .345 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs at the time of his injury last season, said just like every spring training, he wondered if he could be the same player again.

“That always goes through your head,” Morneau said. “It’s like that on the first day of spring training, when it looks like they’re throwing 120 mph and you’re wondering if you can hit anymore.

“Your reaction times have to get back to normal. Once you do that, then you can be the same player. I don’t think the doctors would let me go out there if they didn’t think I can be the same player.”

Talking to New York Mets outfielder Jason Bay, who suffered a season-ending concussion last season, and former Twins and Brewers third baseman Corey Koskie, whose career ended after a concussion, helped Morneau handle his post-concussion comeback, he said.

“There are so many factors that dictate how long it’s going to take,” Morneau said. “For one person it could take a week and another person it could take a year. You never know what it’s going to be.

“I believe everything happens for a reason. Maybe I’m one of the athletes who can stand up and be heard. Who knows in the future? Right now I’m not quite past all of that yet. I’m worried about the day-to-day stuff. I’ve missed a significant amount of time. It shows me life goes on. There’s more important to me than sports.”

Twins starter Brian Duensing struck out four. He gave up two runs and five hits in three innings.

NOTES: Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon got only one out. He walked three and gave up three runs on one hit, increasing his spring ERA to 8.10. … Twins 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka did not realize until arriving at the ballpark that there had been a devastating earthquake in his native Japan. He was able to find out that his family was safe. He debated about playing and decided it would be best for his countrymen back home if he did. He went 1 for 2 with a walk. “I understand that I’m in an occupation where I can bring hope and energy back home to Japan,” Nishioka said through his translator, Ryo Shinkawa. “So I wanted to be on the field and think about people back home and give it all out on the field to try and give something back.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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