Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jason Kubel: Free at Last?

I've got to give credit where it's due. I've been a vocal member of the "Free Jason Kubel" movement that has swept over the blogosphere. I was bothered at times by Ron Gardenhire's erratic usage of Jason Kubel last year, I was annoyed when Gardenhire told the Star Tribune this spring that Kubel would be in the lineup "every once in a while," and I was downright flabbergasted when the manager benched Kubel in favor of Craig Monroe against a right-hander on Opening Day solely because Monroe had outhit Kubel over a meaningless slate of spring training games.

Yet, as of late, Gardenhire finally has shown signs of embracing the talented young hitter. Kubel has been in the lineup in nearly every game since being held out of the season opener. He even batted third in one game, and started in right field last night. At the same time, Gardenhire has seemed diametrically opposed to playing Monroe, despite being given ample opportunity to do so with Michael Cuddyer hitting the disabled list. Monroe's start last night was just his second in the last 10 days, and he has routinely been benched in favor of Denard Span since Cuddyer's injury. Gardenhire has shown a frustrating tendency to stick with under-performing, overpaid veterans for far too long in the past (Rondell White anyone?), so it's refreshing to see Monroe being held out of the lineup with the .133/.278/.267 hitting line he carried into last night's game.

Meanwhile, after frequently downplaying Kubel's importance to the team when talking to reporters in the past, Gardy is now making much more encouraging statements to the press. Things like this:
"I've said all along, 'This guy [Kubel] is one of our best hitters,' " Gardenhire said. "It was just a matter of time. Last year, I thought the last month and a half we were starting to see signs of his legs underneath him better and him really being able to get after balls. In Spring Training, we saw him put a lot of good swings out there. I think you are seeing a guy that is coming along and his legs are really underneath him right now."
And this:
"We've got role players, we've got platoon situations, but we've got guys that you want to see get at-bats," Gardenhire said. "And I want to see Kubel. He was swinging good at the end [of last season]; we want to see him swing now."
Kubel has responded to the love from his manager, and entered last night's game tied with Justin Morneau for the team lead in home runs (three) and RBI (11), while hitting .286/.295/.524. After going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts last night, Kubel has fanned 12 times while drawing just one walk in 48 plate appearances, which is concerning, but he's still scalding the ball consistently when he makes contact. Hopefully, the K/BB ratio will start to even out in time.

The Twins finished up a two-game series against the Tigers last night that was just brutal to watch, with the bullpen blowing leads late in both games. Yet, if we search deep we can still find some positives in this Twins team, and Kubel's establishment as a true regular is something that should not go ignored. Considering Gardenhire's history, there is still a fear in the back of my mind that Kubel could find himself back in playing time limbo with a bad two-week stretch, but for the time being, I'm happy to remove the "Free Jason Kubel!" plea from the sidebar.

However, I'm leaving the "Needs more Kubel" graphic there, because well, it just makes me smile. And smiles are something you need when the big bad Tigers tag your bullpen for nine runs in 3 1/3 innings in a two-game sweep. Eep.

(P.S. - Yes, I realize the sidebar graphic in question is obscenely small right now. I'll get around to fixing it later.)

9 comments:

Matt P said...

as long as we're on the topic of overplaying overpaid vets, how long do you think it takes gardy to replace ever-nohit with tolby? the kid sure seems like he knows how to play the game, at least at the plate. along with your aforementioned errors of his, his plate skills are reminiscent of a girl playing tee-ball. tough losses to watch, hopefully we can clean up on the rays though.

Nick N. said...

Everett was out of the lineup in favor of Tolbert last night, and I wouldn't be surprised if that happens more and more... especially if something comes up when team physicians examine Neverhitt's shoulder today.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad we're paying Nathan $45MM to sit on the bench in tight games. I know he's your closer but how do you give up 9 runs and 2 leads against that offense with your best and highest paid pitcher seeing no action.

Gardy is so old school. I'll bet we see Nathan pitch tonight in a lop-sided game just so he can "get his work in"

Matt P said...

Everett riding the bench/DL could be a blessing for this team. I was a bit surprised when they called up Busher over Tolby at the end of last season, even though Punto still got regular playing time. It will be interesting to see how that new infield produces.

As far as putting Nathan in for the 8th inning goes in a tight game, I don't like it. In fact I hate it. He's a closer, not a reliever. Thats why we have set-up guys like Neshek, Crain and Guerrier, and if they get tagged so be it. I don't think either of those relievers threw horrible in either game. The tigers were hot though, red hot. It's hard to quench a rally from their high RBI guys. It seemed like every ball they hit was just scalded to a gap. They we're tough losses but I really think the kitty cats earned them. They kept finding ways to score runs, and thats how you win games.

Anonymous said...

About Gardenhire not giving Kubel credit until lately, I disagree. Last season, when Kubel was struggling in the beginning, Gardenhire was very supportive. He often told the media that Kubel would be a great hitter when he adjusted after his injuries.

As to Gardenhire's sporadic use of Kubel this year, I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing. There is only one veteran in the outfield and once he was hurt, the entire outfield was young. By not playing Kubel as DH everyday, he is able to fill in when Denard Span can't find his own face with his glove.

Anonymous said...

Nicely played, Nick.
BTW: have you been able to access BYTO?
-Pseudo

Nick N. said...

Haha, I figured you'd enjoy this post Pseudo. And yeah, I was able to access BYTO a little bit today, but it's been very off and on.

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