JUPITER, Fla. (AP) - Logan Morrison stepped on a treadmill Thursday, which kept him on track for a comeback.
Morrison played in pain last year, hit poorly and ran with difficulty as the Miami Marlins' season unraveled. He underwent knee surgery Sept. 5 and received medical clearance this week to begin a running program.
"I didn't think I was going to be so excited to hear I was going to be able to run on a treadmill," he said. "I got pretty pumped up after eight months not being able to run. And before that, when I did run, it wasn't very fun because it was painful."
The Marlins badly need for Morrison to regain his swing of 2011, when he hit 23 home runs in 123 games. He and Giancarlo Stanton are the only returning players from last year's opening day lineup.
Following the Marlins' dismal 2012 season, Morrison could have become part of their dismantling, but there was little market for a gimpy first baseman who batted .230 and sat out the final two months.
So Morrison's back, although it's unlikely he'll be ready for opening day. He's still uncertain when he'll begin hitting, and said he's not going to play if he has any doubt that his knee is ready.
"I tried that last year, and it was not a good thing," he said. "It was painful, and a mental grind just to get out of bed and face major-league pitching."
Options at first base until Morrison returns include Greg Dobbs, Casey Kotchman, Joe Mahoney and Kevin Kouzmanoff.
Morrison first had surgery on his right knee in December 2011. He never fully recovered, and required another operation late last season to repair the patella tendon. On Tuesday, he was examined by Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo. and given clearance to step up his rehabilitation.
"We've got to take it slow still, but we're kind of about to get over that hump," Morrison said. He said the sharp pain and swelling of last season are gone.
In retrospect, Morrison said, he made a mistake trying to rush back from his first operation. He said he couldn't even run around the bases, although he did manage one triple.
"I think the outfielder pulled his hamstring, and blew out his rotator cuff when he threw the ball in," Morrison said with a smile. "That's how that happened."
Morrison shut it down for the season in late July after going without an RBI in his final 50 at-bats. He finished with 11 homers and 36 RBIs in 93 games.
"You feel like you're bulletproof and you go, `Yeah, it hurts, but it will get better and I can play through it and help the team win,"' he said. "I want people like that on my team. But at the same time, obviously it didn't work out well.
"It's not always about being the tough guy and the guy who's on the field. It's about being able to help your team win. If you're not able to do that, why be out there?"
The Marlins went 42-51 when Morrison played and did worse without him, finishing last in the NL East at 69-93. Then came the blockbuster trade that culminated a breakup of the roster and sent five players to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Morrison often engages in funny, candid exchanges on Twitter, and he has 125,000 followers. But while Marlins fans were irate about the Blue Jays trade, and even Stanton tweeted that he was angry, Morrison remained silent on the subject during the offseason.
"I can't control it, so why say anything about it?" he said. "They're not going to ask me, `Hey, we're going to trade half our team away. What do you think about that?' It doesn't matter."
While Morrison's only 25, he has been with the Marlins longer than all but a handful of the 73 players in their clubhouse. While the Marlins need his pop from the left side, manager Mike Redmond said they'll be patient regarding his return.
"You've got to be healthy in this game," Redmond said. "It's hard to play banged up. We've got to take our time with him and ease him back into it and make sure he's 100-percent healthy. We want to have him over the course of the full season."
Morrison broke into the majors with them in 2010 as a left fielder but will now play first base full time. And he might bat cleanup behind reigning NL slugging champion Stanton.
That would ensure plenty of RBIs chances, but Morrison said it doesn't matter where he hits.
"First, second, third, fifth, ninth, whatever," he said. "I don't really care."
At this point, Morrison just wants his knee to let him play.
Notes: CF Justin Ruggiano went to sideline Thursday with lower back tightness. His status is day to day. ... Former Marlins 3B Mike Lowell will join the team as a coach for three games beginning Feb. 28.