New Westminster's Morneau getting healthy

Justin Morneau is looking forward to a pain-free off-season, or at least one that doesn't involve surgery and heavy-duty rehabilitation.

The New Westminster native was shut down for the Minnesota Twins final series of the season in Toronto against the Blue Jays this week, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The last two winters he has dealt with the effects of a concussion he suffered in July 2010 in Toronto. He had wrist surgery last off-season and he's also had back issues.

"I'm really looking forward to that," Morneau told reporters in Toronto. "It's just a huge difference from this year to last year and the year before. It's going to be nice to be able to work out just getting in shape instead of rehabbing an injury or something."

Morneau played just 81 games in 2010 and 69 in 2011. This year, he went on the disabled list in May with a sore wrist. He finishes the 2012 season playing in 134 games with a .267 batting average, 19 home runs and 77 runs driven in.

"Probably somewhere around the all-star break, after the all-star break, I started to feel like my swing was closer to what I wanted it to be and I started hitting [left-handed pitchers] better," he said. "I think I started eight for 90 or something against lefties. It was a combination of things. I had some issues with my swing."

Early in the season, Twins field manager Ron Gardenhire tried to ease Morneau back in by using him as a designated hitter. But after his return from the disabled list, he was back at his familiar first base position, which he preferred.

"[Being the designated hitter is] something that takes some getting used to and when you're struggling it's hard because you don't feel like you're contributing anything to the team," Morneau said. "Those oh-fers are tough. You're oh for the three at-bats, you're not feeling like you're contributing and you putt too much into that last at-bat.

"It helps if you get a hit early. It's something you should be able to deal with as an experienced hitter but it makes it difficult if you're not having any success."

Gardenhire is looking forward to having a healthy Morneau next season.

"Nineteen home runs and (about) 80 RBIs. He can get better than that, probably. But that's pretty good coming back from everything he's been through. I'm hoping that when we get to spring training next year there will be no issues at all," Gardenhire told the Pioneer Press. "I think he's a pretty damn good baseball player."

Before the 2013 season starts, Morneau plans to play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March.

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