Kubel, Target Field getting along better

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 24, 2011 - 10:24 PM

The Twins outfielder swung for power last year and hit .249. So far this season, he's hitting .400 at home.

Jason Kubel

Photo: Steve Nesius, Associated Press

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Jason Kubel, who drove in the winning runs for the Twins in their 4-3 victory over Cleveland on Sunday, has hit safely in the past eight games, in 12 of his past 13, and in 18 of 21 games overall.

Kubel leads the team with a .347 batting average, 39 total bases and has nine RBI, two fewer than third baseman Danny Valencia, who leads the team A year ago Kubel had 59 at-bats compared to 75 this season, only 10 hits compared to 26 now, and two home runs, which he also has now and was hitting only .169.

Kubel said a year ago he started the season swinging for home runs at spacious Target Field. His swing never recovered and he hit .249, his lowest average since he hit .241 in 73 games in 2006.

"It was a sign that I should take things easy and simplify things for this year, and it's working so far," Kubel said.

His new approach has produced great results at Target Field, where he is hitting .400 and has six RBI through seven games this year.

"I think I realized what I can and can't do with this field, so I made the adjustments," he said.

What also has helped Kubel is the chance to play right field on a nearly regular basis, with usual right fielder Michael Cuddyer seeing a lot of service at other positions such as first and second base because of illness and injuries to Justin Morneau and Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

"It's fun out there. I have a good time," Kubel said. "I just try to do the best I can out there and just have fun, moving around and catching balls and not just think about hitting all day long.

"I mean, it's always good to get in there every day and you keep the same feeling going and not press, not try to do too much."

Kubel will be a free agent at the end of this season and while he wants to have a good year to help his contract situation, "It's more important to win some games and win a championship," he said.

Kubel said he would like to stay with the Twins.

"I would, I would, but we'll see what happens," he said. "Right now I'm having fun winning some games."

In trying to explain the big improvement Kubel has made this year compared to last, batting coach Joe Vavra said Kubel is using the whole field.

"He's not fighting the ballpark and that's a good thing to see," Vavra said. "Guys fight this ballpark, they try to do too much in a big ballpark, and he is just trying to put a good swing on it. So he's hitting good pitches and not offering at pitches out of the [strike] zone because he's basically in control of his at-bats."

Morneau hot

Vavra also had a comment about the big series Morneau had against Cleveland, after he went 2-for-5 Saturday with two RBI and 2-for-3 Sunday with two more RBI, lifting his average to .246.

"Today was a good day, that was a good sign," Vavra said about Morneau. "I told him [Saturday] when he hit that ball down the left-field line to the track, that's a great swing. It stayed on that left-field side and today it just keeps everything in perspective.

"If a hitter tries to go the opposite-field side, timing-wise, and [then] back to the pull side, it just makes them better pull hitters."

Yes, the big part Morneau played in the two victories over Cleveland is a good indication what the great first baseman can do to help the Twins get back to their winning ways.

Manager Ron Gardenhire added this about Morneau: "He is playing good, feeling good, which is probably the most important thing. You know he's got that adrenaline going back in him, he had that shot in his neck which really helped him out and loosened him up. He took really good swings out there, even the ball that made the out, the line drive to left field, he crushed that thing. So he's staying on the ball, using the whole field, and it's good to see."

Gardenhire also had this review of the play of shortstop Alexi Casilla, who went 2-for-3 Sunday but made some baserunning errors:

"Casilla's hitting a little bit and you know he had a rough time around third base -- he missed the stop sign [and was thrown out at home plate in the third inning] and missed the hit-and-run sign [earlier that inning] -- but getting on the bases is a good thing, so maybe he's going to get more familiar with running the bases."

Childress on TV

Former Vikings coach Brad Childress, Dan Fouts and Randy Cross will work for CBS Sports commenting on the NFL draft this week.

Childress said he likely would have drafted a top offensive lineman if he was still with the Vikings.

Childress said he believes the current lockout will hurt a team such as the Vikings, who don't have an established quarterback, more than teams who are set at that position.

"If you are breaking in a new quarterback, it certainly is to your advantage to have the minicamps and the regular training camp," Childress said.

Jttings

The Pohlad family continues to invest in the development of the North Loop neighborhood surrounding Target Field. This past week, Pohlad-owned United Properties announced that Ford Centre -- directly across from Target Field -- is 90 percent leased. The historic Ford Centre is undergoing a $42 million renovation and will be completed by the end of this year.

The Twins' Joe Nathan remains only five saves shy of reaching Rick Aguilera's franchise career record of 254, although Matt Capps has taken over closing duties for now.

Once the Twins finish their trip to Boston on May 6-9, the club will have completed all of its road games for the season against the American League East teams that have given them so much trouble in the past.

Twins relievers have held opposing batters to a .194 batting average so far this season. ... As of April 22 last season, no MLB games had been postponed because of bad weather, with the first rainout coming April 23. This season, 15 games already have been postponed as of Saturday.

Former Gopher Jack Hannahan, now starting at third base for the Cleveland Indians, has hit safely in his past five games, including two against the Twins. In fact, Hannahan has hit safely in seven consecutive games against the Twins, dating to Aug. 31, 2008. On Sunday, he beat out an infield hit and then was robbed of a base hit because of a great catch in center field by Denard Span. Signed as a free agent by the Indians in December after spending time with the Tigers, A's and Mariners, Hannahan apparently has found a home with Cleveland.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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