Morneau, Casilla to rejoin Twins on Friday

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire announced today that first baseman Justin Morneau and second baseman Alexi Casilla will be activated from the disabled list prior to Friday’s game in Cleveland.

Morneau, who underwent surgery to remove a herniated disk fragment in his neck on June 29, wasn’t expected to rejoin the team until Monday at the earliest.

But the slugger has looked impressive so far in five games with Triple-A Rochester, hitting .409 with four doubles and five RBIs. He’s expected to play with the Red Wings tonight and tomorrow before being activated in time for Friday’s game against the Indians.

“He’s killing the ball,” Gardenhire said. “He’s swinging really good, and feels great. He basically said, “Get me out of here, please. It’s really hot in Durham.’”

Morneau was originally placed on the disabled list, retroactive to June 10, with a sprained left wrist, before electing to undergo neck surgery later in the month. He was hitting .225 with a .619 OPS along with four homers and 21 RBIs in 55 games before hitting the DL.

He was bothered by problems with his neck and left wrist all season before his trip to the disabled list.

It’s been a tough year and a half for the first baseman, as he missed the second half of last year with a concussion suffered on July 7 in Toronto. He was putting up MVP-type numbers before the season-ending injury, as he was hitting .345 with a 1.055 OPS and 18 homers in 81 games.

Gardenhire said he’s hopeful that now that Morneau is fully healthy again, he can get back to his old ways.

“If we get the guy back who is driving the ball the other now, and the guy who we’ve seen hit and be healthy, then I think it’ll be real entertaining to watch him,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve seen how he can carry a ballclub. If we can get him back and keep him on the field, it will be really entertaining not only for the rest of this year, but maybe having a guy healthy for the start of next year, and we’ll go from there.”

Casilla, meanwhile, made quick progress with his strained right hamstring, and will be activated on the first day he’s eligible to return.

Casilla has been taking batting and fielding practice, as well as participating in running drills, this week at Target Field, and is ready to make his return, according to Gardenhire.

“Casilla feels fantastic,” Gardenhire said. “He’ll be activated for Friday night’s game in Cleveland. His legs feel good. He’s running. The whole package.”

Casilla was hitting .259/.322/.369 with 15 stolen bases and 21 doubles in 96 games this season before injuring his hamstring while running the bases against the Rangers in Texas on July 27.

He bounced back after a rough start, as he hit just .167 in April, but hit .281 with a .751 OPS over the next three months before his injury.

“I think we saw him starting off scuffling a little bit, but as the season has gone along, he’s been one of our better players,” Gardenhire said. “We all know about the athleticism and the plays this guy can make. But we’re seeing that consistency we saw a few years ago, and that’s all it’s ever been about with Alexi.”

Outfielder Jason Repko and infielders Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert are candidates to be optioned on Triple-A Rochster when Morneau and Casilla return.

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