MINNEAPOLIS -- About four weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left meniscus on July 3, Twins outfielder Josh Willingham, on the 15-day disabled list, has started to take batting practice and ramping up baseball activities.
Wearing a brace more likely to be found on football field than a baseball diamond, Willingham said he's feeling good and looking to start playing a few rehab games early next week after five days of batting practice. He tentatively hopes to rejoin the Twins some time in Chicago late next week.
"I'll be striking out in no time," Willingham joked.
"My knee feels good, a lot better than it did before I had the surgery," said Willingham, who had been dealing with soreness in the knee throughout the season. "It was obviously bothering for a pretty good while. The knee feels good and now it's just a matter of getting the endurance and the repetitions up."
Willingham noted that with the way his knee is feeling, it reinforces his initial decision to undergo surgery.
The slugger also said he plans to play left field right away and will continue to wear the brace for a little while. While he doesn't think he needs to wear the brace in order to play, it serves a precaution to keep him for putting too much pressure on the inside of his knee, where Willingham sustained a bruised bone along with the torn meniscus.
"If I felt like it slowed me down or if I couldn't play with it, I'd take it off and play without it," Willingham said. "So far it's been good."
With his first day of batting practice, Willingham said his swing felt rusty but when it comes to rehab, he isn't solely looking for getting his bat back, he wants to feel good running down a ball in the gap or making a slide -- things he thinks are more important than just getting hits.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the club still doesn't know where Willingham will rehab, but getting him out on the field again was good, initial step.
"He's moving around good; his leg feels great," Gardenhire said. "Now it's just a matter of letting him do it for a few days here and trying to figure out a rehab for him and how many days. We'll talk about that in the next few days once he got on that field and ran with us a little bit."
Morneau hoping to stay with Deadline close
MINNEAPOLIS -- First baseman Justin Morneau was a late addition to the list of Twins representatives on hand for the unveiling of the 2014 All-Star Game logo at Target Field on Tuesday, and it caused manager Ron Gardenhire to joke about Morneau's trade status on the eve of the Trade Deadline.
Morneau has been the subject of trade rumors leading up to Wednesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline at 3 p.m. CT, as he's in the final year of a contract that pays him $14 million and the Twins sitting in fourth place in the American League Central.
But Gardenhire took a light-hearted approach to those trade rumblings with Morneau joining Minnesota natives Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins for the All-Star logo press conference before the series opener against the Royals.
"I asked him how he got in on the 2014 logo if he's not going to be here -- he laughed," Gardenhire said. "You've got to have fun with it. It's serious stuff but still, I want him to be relaxed and play baseball. You can't control that stuff."
Morneau said he's been doing his best not thinking about being traded, and reiterated he wants to remain with the Twins.
"I just have to go out and play," Morneau said. "Hopefully, I'll be wearing the same uniform today, tomorrow and the next day. I'm happy to be here. This is where I want to be. But if there's something that will make this team better in the future, that's up to them. But I want to be part of it and be here."
Morneau, though, did say it's weighing on him more than in recent years, as there's a stronger possibility he's dealt this time around. Teams reportedly interested in Morneau include the Orioles, Pirates, Red Sox and Yankees.
"[This year is different] because I'm so close to the end of my contract," Morneau said. "And with the team not doing as well we'd like, it's always a possibility. I'd like to be here with my family, it's the only team I've ever known in the big leagues, and that's all I can really do."
Twins general manager Terry Ryan wouldn't talk about Morneau specifically, but said he wouldn't trade a player in the last year of a deal just to do it, as he'd still want a quality player in return. He added the Twins are looking for younger players with years of control because they're building for the future, but couldn't predict whether he'd make a move before the Trade Deadline.
"As you can tell it's been a little slow in the industry, but tomorrow it should speed up like it does whenever the Deadline arrives," Ryan said. "Whether we do or do not, I don't have a prediction right now. There haven't been many things happen in the last three or four days, frankly."
Twin papa: Mauer back after daughters' births
MINNEAPOLIS -- All-Star catcher and Joe Mauer returned to the Twins on Tuesday after missing the previous six games to attend the birth of his twin daughters, Emily and Maren.
Mauer, who left the Twins in Anaheim on Wednesday, was officially activated from the restricted list on Monday and was back in the lineup batting third against the Royals on Tuesday.
Mauer wasted no time making an impact as he delivered an RBI single in his first at-bat and finished the night 2-for-4 in a 7-2 loss to the Royals.
"It's great to be back, but I also can't wait for after the game to see how the girls are doing," Mauer said before the game. "But it was fun for me to come to the clubhouse and see my teammates. The people in this organization have been great."
Mauer found out that his wife, Maddie, was going into labor shortly before Wednesday's game against the Angels and was able to charter a plane to Minnesota to make it just in time for the births of the couple's first children.
Mauer arrived in Minneapolis at 3 a.m. local time, and Maren was born at 3:44 a.m., while Emily followed two minutes later. Both weighed in at 4 pounds, 15 ounces.
"That day was crazy -- it felt straight out of a movie," Mauer said. "I ended up getting on a plane and getting back 40 minutes before they were born. So it was good timing and I'm glad I was able to experience that."
Mauer added that the twins are both still in the hospital, as they were born about five weeks premature. But Mauer said that all is well with both Maddie and the girls.
"We're both very happy and very excited," Mauer said. "The girls and my girl, Maddie, are doing great. So it's just been a great week."
• Twins second baseman Brian Dozier wasn't in Tuesday's lineup after leaving Sunday's game in Seattle early with a sore back. He is also dealing with a sore knee. General manager Terry Ryan said they're giving him another day or so of rest, but doesn't think "it's anything to worry about."
"He had a little stiff back out there in Seattle and a little stiff knee so we gave him an MRI [Monday] and it's OK," Ryan said. "I don't know if he's going to play tomorrow, but he might."
• Outfielders Wilkin Ramirez and Darin Mastroianni started their rehab stints on Monday from injuries earlier this season -- Ramirez a concussion and Mastroianni foot surgery. Both got a hit -- Mastroianni went 1-for-3 with two RBIs as the designated hitter while Ramirez went 1-for-2 with a double as the starting right fielder for the Gulf Coast League Twins.
"We're going to let those two guys play a couple more there and then I think we're going to send them up," Ryan said. "We'll get them out of there pretty soon, as soon as we think they're ready to go compete at that next spot, wherever it is. I don't anticipate sending both those guys to the same club though."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. Kelly Erickson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.