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Morneau, Mauer drive in runs as Twins defeat Rays

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Associated Press
3/3/2012 8:11:37 PM
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span showed Saturday what made the Minnesota Twins division champions all those years.

The three veterans went a combined 4 for 8 with two RBIs in a 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, a positive sign for a trio whose injury struggles helped lead to last year's 99-loss debacle after Minnesota won six of the previous nine AL Central titles.

"Joe looked at me and said, 'Man, we've got a pretty good lineup when you put everybody in there,"' said Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP who has missed 174 games over the last two seasons with injuries ranging from his neck to his wrist to his knee to persistent concussion symptoms. "It's exciting. I woke up this morning, had a lot of adrenaline going, trying to calm myself down. At the same time, it's a good feeling to be able to run out there."

No one was able to get a hit off David Price, though. The Rays ace looked impressive in the first inning, striking out Mauer and Morneau.

"It's early. They've probably had four or five at-bats this entire spring training, so I don't take a whole lot away from that," Price said. "They're very good hitters. They're tough outs, so I was fortunate to get to strike three."

Mauer, who hit a career-low .287 while playing in only 82 games last year due to injuries and illness, had an RBI single in his second at-bat, drawing a big cheer from the crowd.

"I feel a big difference," Mauer said. "I've said all along that this spring is night and day compared to last year. I'm just trying to stay that way."

Morneau followed with an RBI single of his own in the fifth inning.

Span, who went 2 for 3, battled concussion and migraine symptoms throughout 2011. The outfielder also put his health to the test for the second time this week, diving for a catch only two days after crashing into a fence and busting his lip in a simulated game Thursday.

"Yeah, I tell you, I'm trying to test this thing out, get everything out of the way, man," Span said. "I'm just crashing now, running into everything."

New Twins shortstop Jamey Carroll also had a scare, taking Price's pitch off the helmet in his first at-bat. But he was able to shake it off and go to first base. The free-agent addition from the Dodgers went 2 for 3 in his first game with Minnesota.

Matt Joyce hit a two-run homer off Twins starter Carl Pavano in the first inning. The drive over the right-field wall scored B.J. Upton, who had doubled.

It was an encouraging sign for Joyce, whose fast start last year earned him a spot in the All-Star game before a shoulder injury dropped his batting average to .277 in the season's second half.

"I think every year you have that mindset where you want to show everybody what you can do and grow as a player," Joyce said. "I think it may be a little different than years past in that (manager Joe Maddon) and the guys know what to expect from me, know what I'm capable of, so it takes a lot of pressure off you there."

Healthy seasons from Mauer, Morneau and Span would certainly take some pressure off the Twins this year.

"First day of spring training," manager Ron Gardenhire said with a shrug. "But like you and like everybody else, it's nice to see them out on the baseball field and playing and feeling good. Absolutely."

Pavano, set to start on opening day, allowed three hits in two innings.

Justin Morneau (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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