Canadians Morneau, Votto report to spring training healthy

Justin Morneau isn't the only Canadian major leaguer hoping to put his injury problems of 2012 in the past. Joey Votto, Rich Harden and Scott Diamond are others, and so far the news is good.

Morneau appreciating good times while Votto 'looks great'

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau feels healthy as he prepares to open spring training with the Minnesota Twins. The Canadian played 134 games last season after missing much of 2010 and 2011 with concussions and other injuries. (Craig Lassig/Associated Press)

They are three words that Minnesota Twins management, coaches, players and fans will never get tired of hearing from first baseman Justin Morneau, whether they’re uttered Thursday, Friday, next month or in mid-summer.

No, not "I love you," which would be appropriate on Valentine’s Day Thursday, the day before position players report to spring training at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla.

Instead, "I feel healthy," were the words Morneau, the Twins’ Canadian first baseman, recently shared with reporters. Any conversation that doesn’t involve concussions and wrist soreness is a good sign in Morneau’s world.

"I feel as good as I have most years when I’ve had a normal off-season," the New Westminster, B.C., native said, adding he’s feeling stronger by the day and hoping to put any injury concerns in the past.

Morneau, 31, played 134 games last season, his most since 2009, and close to the 150 combined appearances in 2010 and 2011 when concussions and other injuries derailed those campaigns.

The 2006 American League MVP said he is miles ahead in his spring training preparation than in recent years.

"Through the hard times I’ve learned to appreciate the good times," Morneau said. "Just being able to go out there every day and enjoy being part of the team and putting the uniform on. It just gives you a little bit extra appreciation when you have something taken away from you."

From 2006 to 2009, Morneau was one of the most feared hitters in the major leagues, hitting .292 and averaging 30 home runs and 118 runs batted in. His production has since dipped to a .272 batting average with 14 homers and 54 RBIs. Still, Morneau ranks sixth on the Twins’ all-time home run list with 204.

The six-foot-four, 233-pounder is coming off a 19-homer, 77-RBI season in 2012 during which he hit at a .267 clip. "I’m not ever happy just to play," said Morneau. "Obviously, being out there is good, but I want to be successful."

Minnesota will break camp for its season and home opener April 1 against the defending AL champion Detroit Tigers.

Votto doing well, says doc

Visitors to Cincinnati Reds spring training this weekend in Goodyear, Ariz., might see something they haven’t for some time: Joey Votto walking without a limp.

During last year’s playoffs, the Toronto-born first baseman didn’t appear fully recovered from a pair of operations to repair damaged cartilage in his knee.

While he posted a .389 batting average in a five-game National League Division Series loss to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants, Votto didn’t seem to be able to drive the ball and didn’t record a home run or run batted in during the October series.

But Dr. Tim Kremchek, an orthopedic physician at Beacon Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in Sharonville, Ohio, told the Cincinnati Enquirer recently that Votto’s surgically repaired knee is fine.

"He’s doing well. He looks great," Kremchek said.

The 29-year-old Votto had a .337 batting average with 14 homers, 56 RBIs and a career-high .474 on-base percentage during an injury plagued 2012 season.

Harden adopts day-by-day approach

The good feelings at Minnesota Twins spring training have extended to oft-injured starting pitcher Rich Harden.

The Victoria native on Wednesday said he hasn’t felt healthier in the past six years.

"Really, it’s just day by day, coming off the surgery," Harden told reporters in Fort Myers, Fla. "It’s just feeling where you’re at, getting my range of motion back, building up the intensity of pitches and see how it’s going."

Harden undoubtedly is happy just to be throwing again, having been placed on the disabled list 10 times in the past nine years with arm injuries.

He has thrown off a pitching mound eight times since surgery in January 2012 to tighten the 31-year-old’s shoulder capsule. Minnesota signed Harden to a low-risk, minor league contract in December with an invitation to spring training.

He broke into the majors in 2003 with the Oakland Athletics and threw 189 2/3 innings in his first full year in the majors the following season. Problem is, Harden hasn’t surpassed 150 innings pitched since.

Between the A's and Chicago Cubs in 2008, Harden finished 10-2 with a 2.07 earned-run average in 25 combined starts, posting 181 strikeouts in 148 innings.

But he had a 5.58 ERA in 2010 with the Texas Rangers, accumulating only 92 innings and had a 5.12 ERA in 15 starts in his return to the A's in 2011.

The Twins have acquired Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey to join Scott Diamond of Guelph, Ont., in their rotation, which ranked last in the American League in ERA last season, but there's one open spot. If Harden can prove he's healthy and still effective, he'll have a chance to be the fifth starter.

Diamond hopeful for season opener

One of the few concerns during the first week of Minnesota Twins spring training is the health of 2012 ace pitcher Scott Diamond.

The left-hander from Guelph, Ont., continues to work at getting his throwing elbow ready for game action after bone chips were removed in the off-season.

Diamond, 26, told reporters this week he is approaching the start of spring training slowly and isn’t sure if he’ll be ready to break camp for the Twins’ April 1 season opener against the visiting Detroit Tigers.

"It’s going to be really tight [time-wise] towards opening day," Diamond said, "but I think a lot of it has to do with how [the elbow] feels when I get on the mound for the first time."

Diamond is planning to throw off a mound for the first time next week. He threw from 120 feet on Tuesday for the second straight day and will try from 150 feet Friday.

The southpaw is coming off a 2012 rookie season in which he posted a 3.54 earned-run average and struck out 90 in 173 innings pitched against 31 walks.

He will be missed by his Canadian teammates at the World Baseball Classic next month.

With files from The Associated Press