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Over the Baggy

Is it time to worry about Morneau yet?

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ID:	418Following Monday’s 0-for-2 performance, lowering his spring batting average to .100, Justin Morneau addressed his struggles:

"It's gotten better. It's not where I want it to be yet. The swing's getting better. The swing feels a lot better than it did when I first got down here. It's a process, it's moving along. I just have to keep telling myself that it's slow, and just because it's not here now doesn't mean it's not going to be here a week from now."

Sound familiar?

A year ago, Morneau was coming off a serious concussion injury and slowly easing back into the game in mid-March. For the majority of the time in Florida in 2011, he struggled. He failed to leave the yard in his 11 games and batted .152 but managed to knock a trifecta of doubles. Reflecting on his performance, told the Star Tribune’s LaVelle E Neal that his “timing is starting to come .”

Despite his claim to the contrary, in the regular season Morneau’s timing never came.

As of this past Monday, his results have continued to plummet (down to .091 after yesterday’s 0-for-3 game), sending a ripple of concern through the Minnesota fan base that the timing may never come.

For those looking for some reassurance, you can turn to the fact that it is hard to put too much stock into the small sample size that is spring training. Additionally, Morneau has never been a fast starter when it comes to spring training (dating back to 2006 and MLB.com’s statistical database). Perhaps the Canadians have a tough time adjusting to the Gulf Coast heat. With the exception of his 2009 spring in which he hit three home runs and slugged over .700, he has been somewhat of a disappointment each March. Nevertheless, he has still managed to come out and perform admireably once the calender flips to April. Take is 2010 spring for instance. That year he posted a batting average of .160 (albeit tagging three home runs). Even though he had what could be considered a slow start, he was blazing through the league, hitting .345/.437/.618 with 18 home runs prior to his run-in with John MacDonald’s knee.

Morneau and the media on-lookers in Fort Myers are trying to sell hope. “It’s close” is the clear message. Back on March 16th Neal said in his blog that Morneau “swung the bat with murderous intentions tonight, which could be a sign that his timing is coming around to the point where he's comfortable with letting it fly.” Morneau told reporters after Monday’s game that “I think I've just kind of let it fly and hit some balls hard - hit some balls hard at people, hit some balls hard foul. I guess that's a pretty good sign. Especially yesterday, I pulled the ball foul. I hadn't done that in a long time." Likewise, following yesterday’s contest, 1500ESPN.com’s Phil Mackey described Morneau’s outs as “scalded” and hit “hard.”

These are positive signs, are they not? After all, hard hit balls eventually turn into hits.

Then again, while that sounds comforting, this has been a historically bad spring output for the first baseman. He has never not hit an extra base hit in spring training. He has never had a sub-.100 batting average. What’s more, he has never had to recover from a concussion, wrist surgery and pain in his neck, shoulder, knees and toes (knees and toes). If he was not be able to shake the concussion alone last year to regain his timing, what is to lead us to believe he will overcome all four ailments to rebound in 2012?
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