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Morneau gets juices flowing on rehab assignment

Justin Morneau (left) spent a lot of time with Sox teammates before going on a minor league rehab stint.

Justin Morneau got back on the field and in uniform — albeit in AAA Charlotte Knights threads — Monday and Tuesday night and the veteran first baseman and designated hitter said it was good to feel some adrenaline pumping.

“A lot more than I thought there was going to be,” Morneau said.

“It was exciting, which is good.”

Excactly where the excitement level for a Morneau injection into the White Sox lineup is at depends on the expectations for the left-handed hitting former Most Valuable Player and four-time All-Star.

Morneau, 35, went 0-for-2, grounding out to first and hitting into a double play in his first minor league rehab game Monday and 0-for-2 with a strikeout Tuesday as he recovers from elbow surgery.

“The timing is the most important thing,” said Morneau, signed by the Sox for $1 million plus incentives in June. “You know, see pitches. The results at this point, I’m not too worried about that. Obviously it’s nice to get hits, but to feel good and feel like you’re on time and feel like you’re able to catch up to the fastest pitch is really what you want to feel right now.

“The elbow felt good [Tuesday]. No issues there. It was good. Two [at-bats Monday], more [Tuesday] and hopefully see some more pitches and actually run the bases and test it out a little more.”

At least in the early going, Morneau will stick to DHing. That’s his likely role with the Sox if he is good to go, and that could come shortly after the All-Star break.

That probably excites Sox fans to some degree after seeing Avisail Garcia man the DH role, often from the No. 8 spot in the lineup as he did on Tuesday. Garcia has not lived to the expectations he came to the Sox with when general manager Rick Hahn traded Jake Peavy to get him July 2013.

In 67 games this season, Garcia was batting .237 with five homers and 27 RBI. His slash line of .238/.307/.343 isn’t cutting it, and Garcia’s failed at-bat in the second inning of the Sox game against the New York Yankees must have had more than a few among the 20,773 in attendance at U.S. Cellular Field what Morneau might have done in such a situation.

With the Sox trailing 2-0 but with runners on second and third and one out, Garcia swung at three pitches below the strike zone from Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka for a strikeout with the infield back, conceding a run.

Morneau is a career .282 hitter with 241 home runs.

“His presence in the lineup becomes a bit different than the other guys,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s always been a valuable bat in the middle of the lineup. That’s not going to change.’’

The Sox have been on a nice run – they won 10 of 14 before Carlos Rodon pitched a five-inning, six run (five earned) dud on 12 hits in a game that saw catcher Alex Avila leave with a strained right hamstring – and with Morneau seemingly with them after the All-Star break along with rookie shortstop Tim Anderson’s addition, they feel as though they have something to look forward to.

A none-too-threatening lineup that was instrumental during a horrendous 10-26 streak had come to some life before Tanaka shut it down Tuesday. The Sox had averaged five runs a game and had hit 21 homers since June 20, but Tanaka left in the eighth inning leading 8-0 having allowed six hits.

“Our offense has been doing a nice job lately,’’ Ventura said before the game. “We’re getting guys on, we’re able to push them across, we’ve had some big homers that have helped us as well.’’

But they need more, as in Morneau. Time will tell what he can bring post-surgery, and at age 35. For the Sox, that time can’t come soon enough.