KANSAS CITY -- He isn’t yet ready to think whether or not he’ll play next season, but Justin Morneau concedes this one has been enjoyable so far.
The White Sox designated hitter’s surgically repaired elbow still requires maintenance and he has some rough days. At the same time, Morneau -- who’s hitting .300/.351/.500 with three homers and nine RBIs in 77 plate appearances -- is surprised how quickly he has found comfort at the plate and how he’s been physically capable of preparing the way he needs. While for now he’s focused on the present and not 2017, Morneau makes it sound as if he’d have a difficult time calling it quits if all is well.
“As long as I’m still enjoying it and enjoying the work, I’ll probably assess that toward the end of September,” Morneau said. “But to be able to come out and work the way I'm used to working -- I’m someone that enjoys spending time in the cage and all that kind of stuff. I’ve been able to do that. That was the most frustrating part about last year -- I couldn’t take the amount of swings that I wanted and that was kind of what had me questioning whether or not I would enjoy playing again.”
“I’ve been able to do things that I wanted to do, so I’ll make that decision at a later point, but for right now, it has been fun.”
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Morneau wasn’t sure what to expect when he had the surgery last December. After rehabbing for six months, he hoped he’d only need 20-30 minor league plate appearances to find some semblance of comfort at the plate. At that point he’d return to the big leagues knowing it would still be a work in progress.
So far, Morneau has been everything the White Sox needed since Adam LaRoche retired five months ago.
“He’s filled the left-handed presence we were looking for,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Even against the lefty he’s having a quality at-bat.
“He’s had professional at-bats. It’s a very educated at-bat.”
Todd Frazier has had a front row view as he often has hit behind Morneau since he joined the team last month. He appreciates how Morneau competes and extends the lineup. Frazier pointed to Tuesday’s win when Morneau said he wasn’t feeling it and followed with a 4-for-5 performance, including a critical double in the 10th inning.
“Just consistency,” Frazier said. “Just a professional. Guy has been doing it for years. You look up to a guy like that. I have the best view in the house. I’m hitting right behind him and you see the battles he goes through and the at-bats and he finds a way to do it. Couldn’t ask for anything better.
“He came in after the first at-bat telling everyone he didn’t feel well. Next thing you know he’s got four hits. Whether that’s professionalism or he’s lying to us, either way we’ll take it.”
Those types of days are exactly one of the reasons Morneau wanted to return. Disappointed how his sore elbow hindered preparation in 2015, Morneau hoped to feel healthy once again. He believed he had some ability left and has proven it so far. As long he continues to enjoy it and all is well, Morneau may just have the same desire again in 2017.
“It’s usually when you have it figured out and your swing is locked in, that’s when you go 0-fer and those times you go up there and battle you surprise yourself sometimes and get some balls to fall in and usually that’s how you start rolling,” Morneau said. “It starts with a blooper or a two-strike hit or a two-out hit or whatever it is. That can get you going in the right direction.
“You never know when that’s going to happen. Those days like that are few and far between, but they are nice when they happen. It’s hopefully a sign of more good things to come.”