- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

FORT MYERS, FLA. (AP) - Minnesota Twins star Justin Morneau hit a three-run double in a spring training “B” game on Tuesday, the first time he’s played since a concussion sidelined him in July.

The 2006 AL MVP was at first base a day after he received medical clearance from his doctor following an hour-long conversation.

“We figured now is as good a time as any to see if my body was ready for this,” Morneau said. “I’ll have a day off tomorrow. Then I’ll come back and get some more work.”

“I’m not more at risk than anybody else with a fastball to the head or anything else. That was kind of what I needed to hear,” he said.

Facing the Pittsburgh Pirates on a back field at the Lee County Sports Complex in a morning game, Morneau grounded into a fielder’s choice in his first at-bat. He then drove in three runs with a bases-loaded double down the line.

“It was exciting for him. It was a fun day,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’ll see how he feels and then day by day, slowly work him into it.”

Teammate Carl Pavano noted Morneau sporting a handlebar-style mustache.

“You’ve got to be feeling really good if you are going to be wearing that around here,” Pavano said.

Morneau said he’s happy to finally take this important step, but he’s still mixing caution with his optimism.

“When I see myself in the lineup on April 1, I think that will be when I’m 100 percent,” he said. “I just don’t want to get totally excited. It’s great to be out there, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve been through some setbacks along the way.”

Morneau was kneed in the head sliding into second base against the Toronto Blue Jays just before the All-Star break and has been working his way back over the last eight months. Now that he’s no longer considered at risk for re-injury, he’ll be focusing on his conditioning.

“I just have to get my body used to being in that environment,” Morneau said. “It feels good for me to be approved. It’s still a process. Until I play nine innings and go home at the end of the day and not feel like I need a three-hour nap or anything like that, that’s normal. That’s where we need to be. It’s one of those things where it’s going to take some time to get back into game strength.”

General manager Bill Smith said Morneau has had no restrictions on his activities, whether numbers of swings or groundballs he takes in a given day.

“We’re going to continue to proceed with caution and follow the advice of the doctors and trainers,” Smith said. “We’re all hopeful that he’s going to handle today fine. Then we’ll just take it from there.”

Twins left fielder Delmon Young, who has yet to participate in a regular exhibition game this spring training because of turf toe, also played in the “B” game.

“Delmon felt really good,” Gardenhire said. “Two walks in one game? We haven’t seen that in a long time.”

Gardenhire said barring setbacks, he’ll write Morneau and Young into the lineup for Thursday’s home exhibition game against the Toronto Blue Jays. The manager said he didn’t have a timetable yet for when Joe Mauer (knee) or Michael Cuddyer (foot) will play.

“We’re only a few away from getting a really fun lineup all the way up and down,” Gardenhire said.

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