MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire's top priority before Thursday's game was to check with Josh Willingham to see how his left knee was feeling.
Willingham had a cortisone shot in knee on Saturday night, and he returned to left field on Tuesday, only to still feel some discomfort, forcing him to start at designated hitter on Wednesday.
But with Joe Mauer serving as the DH on Thursday with Ryan Doumit getting the start at catcher, Gardenhire wanted to see if Willingham could play left. The manager was relieved to hear Willingham was feeling much better, especially because he wanted his right-handed bat in the lineup against left-hander John Danks.
"Hammer came in feeling great and said he was feeling ready to go," Gardenhire said. "When I got here today, that was my first priority. With a left-hander out there, it's nice he wanted to run out there."
With another lefty on the mound for the White Sox, Gardenhire also kept Brian Dozier in the leadoff spot on Thursday. Dozier made his first start as the club's leadoff hitter since May 20 on Wednesday, and he went 1-for-2 with a three-run homer and two walks.
"It worked yesterday," Gardenhire said. "He put one in the seats, so I thought I might as well run him back out there."
Morneau hopes homer signals turning point
MINNEAPOLIS -- As Justin Morneau put it, the monkey was finally off his back after homering on Wednesday against the White Sox.
Morneau connected on a two-run blast in the seventh inning to give him his first homer since April 28, and his third of the season. It ended a career-long homerless stretch that spanned 168 at-bats.
Morneau admitted it was a relief to finally homer, and added that he hopes it'll help him moving forward.
"Hopefully it's the start of good things," Morneau said. "You never know. The old saying, one home run doesn't make a home run hitter. It's one of those things that hopefully gets you going in the right direction. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is hit a home run, and you start trying to do that over and over again. For me, I think hopefully this is the best-case scenario."
Despite the lack of homers, Morneau has still been productive, as he's hitting .289 with a team-high 40 RBIs in 64 games entering Thursday. But he had been doing a lot of extra work pregame with hitting coach Tom Brunansky to find his power, and it finally clicked on Wednesday.
"I'm sure it's a relief," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He was pretty excited. He got the bat head out there. He worked really hard yesterday before the game on making a few adjustments getting the bat head out front. So I think we all saw he was relieved with a different type of smile on his face. So hopefully he'll carry it from there."
Ramirez heads to Fort Myers for rehab stint
MINNEAPOLIS -- Outfielder Wilkin Ramirez was officially sent on a rehab assignment with Class A Advanced Fort Myers on Thursday.
Ramirez, who has been on the seven-day concussion disabled list since May 26, flew to Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday and participated in the minicamp held for recent Draftees now that extended spring camp is over.
Ramirez initially suffered the concussion when he ran into left fielder Josh Willingham while trying to catch a fly ball on May 25 in Detroit.
Ramirez was hitting .244 with three doubles and five RBIs in 23 games as a backup outfielder before suffering the concussion.