Kubel chooses to use the park and not fight it

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 24, 2011 - 11:24 PM

He'll take the occasional accidental homer at Target Field, but his game-winning double Sunday was plenty.

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When Jason Kubel connected in the seventh inning Sunday, he ran hard out of the batter's box.

"I knew it wasn't going out," he said. "I know this place."

It's a reversal from last season, when Kubel and some of his teammates would get that sweet feeling of making solid contact and tell themselves it feels like a home run, then watch in dismay when the ball hit off one of the walls in this spacious stadium -- or even got caught.

Not Sunday. Kubel pulled into second with a double to deep right-center and watched two runs score that helped the Twins win 4-3 for their third consecutive victory. They also won their first series of the year -- they won two against Cleveland, and the game that was rained out Friday will be made up at a later date -- as well as their seventh victory in a row over the Indians.

The inning was set up for Kubel when Alexi Casilla singled, Denard Span reached on a fielding error and Jason Repko bunted the runners over to second and third. Kubel dug in against tough lefthanded reliever Rafael Perez, against whom lefthanded hitters were 1-for-10 this season.

Perez might have done Kubel a favor by throwing him a changeup instead of a slider, but Kubel didn't miss the pitch that became the game- winning hit. Kubel, a career .236 hitter against lefties, is batting .269 against them this season.

"Kubel is driving the ball all over and when they make a mistake, he rips it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Kubel looks like a different hitter this season, spraying hits everywhere and being one of the exceptions on a Twins offense that is ranked near the bottom of baseball in several categories.

Last year, Kubel admits to letting Target Field get in his head. He tried to hit homers by trying to pull everything to right. He hit .249 with 21 homers and 92 RBI. Teammate Michael Cuddyer contends that Kubel's season wasn't that bad.

"People get caught up waaay too much in batting average," Cuddyer said. "The single most overrated stat in baseball. For him to drive in 90-plus runs two years in a row and 20-plus home runs is way overlooked."

Kubel couldn't overlook how poorly he hit and decided to change his mind-set. He focused on hitting the ball where it's pitched.

Accept doubles. Doubles are your friends.

Target Field is where well-hit balls get caught and don't become souvenirs. Justin Morneau flied out to left in the seventh inning with a drive that would have been a home run in many parks. And Twins closer Matt Capps probably went home relieved he was pitching at home when former Gopher Jack Hannahan flied out deep to left for the final out of the game.

Kubel will get his share of home runs this season, but he said during spring training that he would focus on being a good hitter this year and it's working. He's on an eight-game hitting streak, during which he's batting .429 with three doubles, two homers and seven RBI.

"Saturday, I hit a ball to left-center, which I didn't try to do too much last year because if I get it up in the air, it's an out. I've been hitting the ball all over the field this year and I've been pretty happy with that. That's how you hit good."

His two home runs were hit at Tropicana Field, one to center and the other to the opposite field in left.

"Tampa, I wasn't trying to hit it out and it went out," he said. "Here, even when I don't try to him them, they go out, too. [Last year] I would hit one good and it would get caught and I would be like, 'I'm going to hit it harder,' and try to pull it.

"I'm not going to fall into that trap this year."

La Velle E. Neal III • lneal@startribune.com

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