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You can’t blame Twins fans for living in the past these days, their favorite team is 195-291 over last three seasons. The front office however, is supposed to be looking at the present and future. So, it raised a few eyebrows when the Twins broke camp with Jason Kubel on the roster.
Kubel was coming off a miserable 2013 campaign. Hounded by a series of nagging injuries, he hit just .216/.293/.317 with 5 homers in 89 games with Arizona and was designated for assignment in August before being dealt to Cleveland. He went just in 3 for 18 (.167) for the Tribe.
After inking a low risk minor league contract with the Twins, Kubel appeared to pick up right where he left off with a 13 for 46 (.196) showing during the exhibition season. Whether it was desperation or faith, the Twins still added the veteran slugger to their opening day roster.
So far he’s made them look good. The 31-year-old is hitting .328/.418/.483 with 11 RBI in 17 games and has rekindled memories of the Twins suddenly no-so-recent glory days. I caught up with Kubel during the last home stand.
DZ: You are back in Minnesota, off to a pretty hot start; how are you feeling right now?
KUBEL: I am feeling pretty good, body is holding up. Hopefully we’ll get some more wins.
DZ: Your spring numbers weren’t the greatest, how do you go from there to being this hot, what clicked for you?
KUBEL: Spring training is just to get your body ready, work on some things, just get ready for the season. I could care less about numbers or results. I just want to make sure the body is feeling good and I am ready for a long season.
DZ: This year was probably a little different (for you) coming into spring - you were on a minor league deal…did that change your approach?
KUBEL: No, I knew as long as I stayed healthy and kept improving like I did that I would be OK and here we are.
DZ: Obviously last year didn’t go the way you had hoped, what do you take away from that looking back?
KUBEL: I just want to stay healthy. Last year was a rough year. I got hurt the second series of the season and just didn’t get better after that. It snowballed from there…I am feeling good, hopefully it stays that way.
DZ: Was it humbling at all, having that uncertainty?
KUBEL: I wasn’t too worried about it. Like I said, I knew as long as I stayed healthy and looked like I belonged here there would be no problem.
DZ: (When) you were a free agent; the Twins - obviously you knew a lot about them - did they reach out to you? How did that all go?
KUBEL: Yeah, we both had interest. I was talking to guys before the season was over and I missed it over here - a lot of great guys - getting to know the new guys which is fun too. I wanted to be back, I like it here and it worked out.
DZ: What feels the same to you, what feels different?
KUBEL: Besides all the new players, it’s pretty much the same. I think we’ve got a good team, better than what our record says right now. I think we’ll play tough and hopefully it will start going our way.
DZ: Was it weird coming in here and seeing so many different players?
KUBEL: It took a little time to get used to it and to get to know the guys, but it feels like old times here.
DZ: When you look back at your first time here, what stands out about all those years?
KUBEL: Nothing really, it’s just a beautiful park, I like playing here. The fans are great, just enjoyed my time here and I am glad I am back.
DZ: How about going back into the Metrodome (era)…what are your top moments as a Twin?
KUBEL: There’s a lot - some big hits, big wins, did a lot of things there. It was a good place, but I am just thrilled we are here at this new beautiful park and we’ll make a lot of memories here.
DZ: Have you been down to where the Dome was?
KUBEL: No, not yet. I heard it’s gone…I haven’t seen it yet.
DZ: How about your number, you are No. 13, Willingham’s got 16. How did you pick that one out?
KUBEL: It’s what I’ve had in the past, I had it the last couple of years (in Arizona) and I just like it.
DZ: When you first got called up, you were No. 1, right?
KUBEL: Yeah, that wasn’t by choice. That’s not me, but I like 13.
DZ: If 16 became available would you be looking to switch?
KUBEL: Nope, I am done with that.
BONUS COVERAGE: Twins 3B Coach Joe Vavra on Kubel
DZ: You were the hitting coach most of the time (2005-2012) Kubel was here the first time. Has he changed at all in the past couple of years?
VAVRA: He’s always been a pretty good hitter, the thing with Jason Kubel is it’s all about confidence. He’s got plate coverage, he can pull the ball. He can take the ball the other way. He’s a professional hitter, he has good at-bats. When he gets down in the counts, he’s never out of the at-bat.
He’s got a lot of experience. I think when he left here and went down to Arizona, I think that was a good move for him to see what else is out there. He had a good year his first year and then last year I think he had a couple of little injuries here and there and he lost a lot of confidence. Spring training, right away, I was just talking about getting back that confidence. Coming back to Minnesota, he had good success here, so there’s a lot of good vibes just coming here and putting on that uniform again. The fans really were receptive to him and have opened up again. That just feed positive energy to players.
I don’t think he’s changed a whole lot, the skills were always there. He had good years for us, real good years. Of the threesome - Mauer, Morneau and then there’s Kubel. He was a lefthander that didn’t get as much publicity, but numbers wise he was right there.
DZ: He’s kind of a quiet guy, was it hard getting him to open up?
VAVRA: No, not really; not when you are working with a guy everyday in the cage. Everybody kind of opens up…Everyday we had a plan, we had a mission. We had to talk about what the (pitcher) would feature that day, what was his plan. We had to kind of compile that with the rest of the line-up and see what they were gonna do. Had to see if it worked. Quiet yes, but dangerously quiet.
DZ: You mentioned confidence. Are certain players - do you need to keep them up more and others just leave them alone - how does that work?
VAVRA: It’s an individual piece. Some guys feed off of people telling them, “You are one swing away, you are a pretty damn good hitter all the time, you are never out of an at-bat, you are dangerous, I love have you up at the plate…I can’t wait to see guys at third base cause you are gonna knock ‘em in.” You keep giving them that type of energy, so in the back of their mind, they know they have people pulling for them. Then are guys are like; this is guy is pretty good right here, you don’t have to say too much, you don’t want to put thoughts into their head, you don’t want any thoughts in their head. It’s an individual case.
DZ: Where does Kubel fit in on that?
VAVRA: Kubel; I think you gotta keep telling him just how good he is. That always seemed to work for me. Just tell him, “It’s just fun to watch you hit. If I wasn’t part of this, I would sit in the crowd and watch you hit. I’d come for your four or five at-bats every night just to watch you hit, heck with the game, I’d just watch you hit.” I don’t want to say you’d stroke him, but it is was it is; he’s a pretty good hitter, you just keep telling him how good he can be and he is.