Nathan, Morneau have 'cleanup' surgery

Nathan, Morneau have 'cleanup' surgery

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins closer Joe Nathan and first baseman Justin Morneau each underwent "cleanup" surgeries on Tuesday to have bone chips removed, general manager Bill Smith indicated via e-mail on Thursday.

Nathan saw noted specialist Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday after team doctors recommended a minor cleanup to his right elbow. Andrews confirmed the recommendation and on Tuesday morning he performed the surgery to remove two bone chips from the closer's right elbow.

Morneau had been bothered by a bone chip in his right wrist before his season came to an early end in mid-September due to a stress fracture in his lower back. On Tuesday, Twins hand specialist Dr. Tom Verecka removed the chip in Morneau's wrist.

Both Nathan and Morneau are expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training, Smith said.

Back at home in Knoxville, Tenn., Nathan said on Thursday that he's doing well since the surgery and that he's already getting back the range of motion in his elbow. Asked about when he first noticed something bothering his pitching elbow, Nathan said that he couldn't pinpoint a specific time.

"It's a case where I knew that [my elbow] was not 100 percent, but it wasn't really a problem until we really got in there and really took a look at it and got a chance to see that these bone chips can do some real damage if they aren't taken care of," Nathan said.

"I think as you play this game, you learn that there is a difference between going out there and not playing at 100 percent and also knowing when you could be doing some more damage," the closer added. "I think I had an idea that there might be something going on and that we might want to take a closer look. So we did. As surgery goes, this was a very minor procedure and now seemed like the right time to get it done."

Nathan said it will be 6-8 weeks before he can start a throwing program and about 12 weeks before he's able to pitch off a mound. That's about the normal schedule for him in terms of throwing, so Nathan said the only thing the surgery will impact is his ability to get started on his full-blown workout program in November.

"I think this could end up being a blessing in disguise," Nathan said. "It will give me a good opportunity to kind of get that time off that I need and give my body the rest that it probably needs right now."

The Twins All-Star closer is coming off a strong 2009 campaign in which he set a single-season Twins record with 47 saves while posting a 2.10 ERA. The end of the season wasn't quite what Nathan had hoped, as he posted a 9.00 ERA in two innings of work in the playoffs. That included a blown save in Game 2 of the American League Division Series when Nathan gave up a two-run, game-tying homer to Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning.

But Nathan, who finished the regular season by converting 13 consecutive saves with a 1.17 ERA, didn't believe the bone chips had any impact on any struggles he might have had toward the end of the year.

"I'm not using it as an excuse or anything," Nathan said of the bone chips. "It wasn't anything that affected my performance at all.

"It definitely wasn't on my mind. The last few weeks of the season, the only thing I was thinking about is how incredible of a run we are on and just really concentrating on doing what I can to make sure we get as many wins as we can and to give ourselves a chance to come back in the race. Fortunately we were able to do that. As for the playoffs, I made one bad pitch to the wrong guy at the wrong time."

Nathan said that while it was a disappointment to have the team get swept in three games by the Yankees, the early exit did allow for more recovery time following surgery.

"What [Dr. Andrews] said after the surgery was that eventually this thing was going to be needed to take care of, one way or another," Nathan said. "He told me if I had waited on it, it could have gotten a lot worse. So while right now it's a minor setback, I think overall having the surgery now is a good thing."

As for Morneau, the surgery on his wrist shouldn't alter his offseason plans. When Morneau went down with the stress fracture in his back, doctors told him it would require about three months of rest for the injury to heal and that he would be ready for the start of Spring Training. Smith said that should still be the case with Morneau expected to make a full recovery from both injuries before he reports to Fort Myers, Fla., for Spring Training in February.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.