CLEVELAND -- Justin Morneau accompanied the White Sox on this road trip so he can get better acclimated to his new teammates.
The veteran first baseman is with the White Sox as they begin a seven-game road trip against the Cleveland Indians on Friday. He started to hit off a tee on Monday and continues to feel good about his how rehab from a December elbow surgery has progressed.
Even though he still has plenty of tests to pass, Morneau wants to best prepare for a midseason transition onto a new team, including getting familiar with his new teammates.
“Joining a team in the middle of the year is difficult,” Morneau said. “You go through spring training and get to know each other a lot. You spend a lot of time together, so that’s kind of why I wanted to come on the road. Just feel a little more comfortable with my teammates. Feel like you are part of the team instead of off on your own doing your own thing. Hopefully I can help out in any way I can, even for my own sake to feel comfortable around the guys.”
Morneau said Friday it would be some time before he starts a rehab assignment. The team originally said it expects him to be ready around the All-Star break.
Aside from dry swings, Morneau hadn’t swung the bat until he began a program this week. He previously has taken grounders at first base and said his elbow feels good.
“I wouldn’t say that close,” Morneau said. “No, we are some time in July. Not sure yet. Gotta pass a lot of tests before then. But off the tee has gone well, next step will be flips and then batting practice on the field. There’s still a few weeks away.”
The 35-year-old hit .310/.363/.458 in 182 plate appearances last season for the Colorado Rockies despite feeling pain with each swing. He also won the National League batting title in 2014 when he hit .319. Morneau, who signed a one-year deal for $1 million last week, thinks he can still contribute and said he isn’t just here for fun and to mentor younger players — “If I wanted to do that, I would coach,” he said.
“There’s a presence in there,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He can hit for power, he can hit for average. I think a lefty presence behind a righty bat lengthens our lineup. He’s a smart hitter as well. Playing against him the last few years you can see what he brings to the table. You didn’t want him coming up in big situations. He seems to get the barrel on it and do some damage.”
Morneau is happy to be in this situation, back in the clubhouse. He has to familiarize himself with his new teammates and figure out his niche.
But it’s exactly where he wants to be.
“There are a lot of guys who have been around,” Morneau said. “Mostly veteran group with a few young players that bring the excitement. It’s a close team. It’s what I missed while I was at home watching on TV.”