Healthy Kubel returns to Twins, ready to make impact
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jason Kubel returned to the Twins on Thursday as a free agent, non-roster outfielder trying to rejoin the team where he enjoyed his most prolific years.
"It feels great," said Kubel, who was the last of the 64 players to report to camp, two days ahead of Saturday's first full-squad workout. "I missed everybody when I was gone, but still kept in contact. I kept tabs with the team. I'm just happy to be back."
Kubel, who left Minnesota to sign a free-agent contract with the D-backs after the 2011 season, is coming off the worst year of his career statistically during an injury-plagued 2013. He played 97 games for the D-backs and Indians, hitting .216 with five homers and 23 RBIs.
Things had gotten so low for Kubel that the D-backs designated him for assignment in the middle of August and then traded him to Cleveland.
"I'm over all the injuries and stuff," Kubel, 31, said. "I'm just looking forward to starting over again. I started out fine and then got hurt early. It never really healed, and I never really got back after that. It was my left quad. It stayed around all year. So I think that's gone. Actually, I know that it's gone. Hopefully, I'll just stay healthy."
In his second Minnesota iteration, Kubel is eyeing a part-time role in the outfield, some games at designated hitter and pinch-hit appearances. In his seven seasons with the Twins, Kubel was a .271 hitter with 104 homers and 429 RBIs.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he hopes Kubel can return to that form.
"He just got here. He just flew in. Took the red eye, the budget flight, saving all of his money," the veteran skipper said. "We brought him over here for a reason. We needed a bat, we needed some experience, whether it's off the bench or on the field. We need guys who know how to win. This guy can do all those things. We watched him do it. At one point, he was one of the best hitters in this organization.
"He still has a lot left in him. His legs are healthy. He looks great. He's in great shape. We are excited to have him in camp here. Now we'll see what he does on the field. I'm hoping he's a big part of this ballclub."