NEW YORK -- After nine straight starts as the designated hitter to start the season, Justin Morneau made his first start at first base this year on Monday against the Yankees.
Morneau was originally approached by Twins manager Ron Gardenhire about batting fifth in the lineup behind Josh Willingham, but Morneau countered by telling his manager he was ready to give first base a shot.
"It seemed like a good time," Morneau said. "It's something I've been shooting for, and I think the longer I wait, the more difficult it's going to be to find that rhythm and all the rest of it. So, obviously, the goal is to be playing every day, or close to every day, by the end of the year. It's going to be gradual; but may as well start now, I guess."
Morneau last played first base on March 13 in Spring Training, but his last regular-season start at first came on Aug. 28, 2011. He ended up re-aggravating concussion-like symptoms with a diving play during that game and didn't play the rest of the season.
There's still no plan for when Morneau will get his next start at first base, as he's expected to sit on Tuesday, with left-hander CC Sabathia on the mound for the Yankees. But the Twins want to give him some starts at first leading up to their Interleague series in Milwaukee from May 18-20.
"We're just going to go day by day with it," Gardenhire said. "It's not going to be starting every day right now, do it and let him go back to DH. What I do like about it is it gives me options to give Joe Mauer a day to DH and nothing in the field."
Mauer made his first start of the year at DH on Monday, but the big news was the decision to split up Mauer and Morneau in the lineup. The last time they didn't bat consecutively was April 4, 2008, when Mauer batted second and Morneau hit fourth, and the last time they batted third and fifth was Sept. 29, 2007.
"He said it was about breaking up the lefties, it makes them make a decision with relievers," Morneau said about his conversation with Gardenhire. "He didn't say anything about it, but I'm sure it has something to do with how good Willingham's swinging the bat, too. Joe hasn't really been getting a lot to hit, so for now it makes sense. It doesn't matter to me; as long as I'm in the lineup and whatever gives us the best chance to win."
Mauer doubled in his first at-bat Monday and scored on Willingham's RBI single to get the Twins on the board first against the Yankees. Morneau followed later with a single in his first at-bat.