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.)