The Minnesota Twins announced today that first baseman Justin Morneau, who has been on the Disabled List since June 9 with a wrist injury, will miss an additional six weeks. Morneau is scheduled to have surgery next week to repair a pinched nerve in his neck. It is the latest in a long list of disappointing injuries to the team’s most consistent slugger.
Morneau missed the second half of 2010 with a concussion, and though he returned to the Opening Day lineup this year, he has not played anywhere near his peak abilities. The 2006 AL MVP was leading the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage prior to his injury last year, but has a line of just .225/.281/.338 with four home runs in 55 games this season. The wrist and neck injuries were clearly affecting Morneau’s performance well in advance of the DL stint.ant
For the Twins, this injury means we will probably see a lot more of Luke Hughes, who has been filling in at first base the last few weeks. It also means that the return of Jim Thome becomes much more important. Morneau’s 2010 injury resulted in a lot more playing time for Thome, who hit 25 home runs to fill in the power void from the left side of the plate. If the Twins get back into postseason contention, they may need to get more creative by pursuing a first baseman via trade, or make the move Twins fans have been expecting for years: Joe Mauer at first base.
Looking at Morneau’s injury history, one has to wonder if he did something to offend somebody who owns a voodoo doll. After an impressive rookie season in 2004, Morneau took a Ron Villone fastball to the head early in 2005 for his first concussion. He slumped that year, posting the worst numbers of his career. After staying healthy the next three seasons, Morneau’s 2009 was cut short due to a back injury. He returned with a vengeance in 2010, only to collide with Blue Jay second baseman John McDonald and miss the rest of the season. And now there are this season’s injuries.
Morneau’s career path is starting to look a lot like that of another Twin: former outfielder Tony Oliva. Both are tall lefthanded hitters capable of hitting 30 homers and/or competing for a batting title in any given year. Both had Hall of Fame potential. But like Morneau, Oliva’s career devolved into a series of “what-ifs” after he sustained a debilitating injury as a young player. In Oliva’s case, it was a severe knee injury that sapped his productivity, required seven surgeries, and eventually forced him into DH duty before ending his career.
Hopefully, Morneau can recover from this latest setback and put all his injury troubles behind him. But the seasons lost to injury keep piling up.