Justin Morneau to return Friday

MINNEAPOLIS -- After wearing out Triple-A pitching and general manager Bill Smith's cell phone, Justin Morneau has finally received the green light to return to the Minnesota Twins.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said Wednesday that Morneau will rejoin the Twins on Friday when they open a three-game series in Cleveland. The star first baseman has not played in a game since June 9, when he went on the disabled list to have surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his neck.

"He's killing the ball," Gardenhire said. "He's swinging really good and feels great. He basically said, 'Get me out of here, please.'"

In his first five games with Triple-A Rochester, Morneau hit .409 with four doubles. He was scheduled to play nine innings with the Red Wings on Wednesday night and Thursday before flying to Cleveland to meet up with the Twins.

It's been another trying season for the former AL MVP, who missed the last four months of 2010 with a concussion. He struggled early in 2011 with an injured left wrist and the pinched nerve, which he said basically had him swinging one-handed. He was hitting just .225 with four homers in 55 games before he finally relented and went on the disabled list.

Practically from the moment Morneau hit the field with Rochester, he has been clamoring to get back up with the Twins. He has been texting Smith daily to urge him to activate him.

"With the surgery and the wrist and everything else, just talking with him, he says he feels real good and he hasn't said that in a long time," Gardenhire said.

Morneau has been one of several core players to miss a big chunk of time with the Twins this season, and the team has suffered greatly on the field because of it. They entered the game Wednesday night against the Boston Red Sox on a six-game losing streak and 14 games under .500, fading from contention in the AL Central.

So if ever the team needed an emotional lift like this, now is the time.

"He's definitely one of our leaders," center fielder Denard Span said. "Just to have him back and have his presence in the clubhouse will be huge. If he can play like he's capable of playing, it will definitely be even a bigger lift for us."

Even if Morneau's return is too late to save them this season, Gardenhire hopes it will build some positive momentum for him heading into next year.

"If we get the guy back that we've seen hit, and healthy, I think it will be real entertaining to watch and see what he can do when he's healthy," he said. "We've seen how he can carry a ballclub. If we can get him back and keep him on the field, it would be really entertaining not only for the rest of this year but maybe having the guy healthy going into next year."