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Kubel aims to reclaim past success with Twins

Non-roster invitee returns to Minnesota trying to bounce back from health issues

MINNEAPOLIS -- The 2013 season was essentially a lost one for Jason Kubel.

A year after hitting .253 with 30 homers, 30 doubles and 90 RBIs in 141 games with the D-backs, Kubel struggled to stay healthy and hit just .220 with five homers, nine doubles and 32 RBIs in 89 games with Arizona before being traded to the Indians in late August.

Kubel couldn't gain any traction in Cleveland either, hitting just .167 in 18 at-bats in September. He didn't even see the field in Cleveland's final series at Target Field, but he made the most of it by talking to Twins brass and his former teammates about wanting to rejoin the Twins this offseason.

That became a reality in mid-December when he signed a Minor League deal with Minnesota, where he spent the first seven seasons of his career before signing with Arizona before the 2012 season.

"I came in at the end of last year and talked to everybody," Kubel said. "I missed them. I told them that I wanted to come back and I'd like to be back, and they said the same. I was real excited to go into the offseason and talk to them."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire remembers the conversation well, as he spoke to Kubel in his office about a potential reunion.

"At the end of the season when he was in town with Cleveland, he came by our office and I said, 'Why aren't you in this clubhouse?'" Gardenhire said. "He said, 'Well, let's talk over the winter.' And we talked."

Kubel, 31, knows Spring Training will be important for him as a non-roster invite, but if healthy, Kubel is likely to make the roster as the club's designated hitter and as an occasional corner outfielder.

Kubel dealt with leg issues throughout the '13 season, including a strained left quadriceps muscle, but said he's feeling good this offseason.

"It was my left leg." Kubel said. "I couldn't really push off, couldn't run. It just didn't work out last year. But I'm healthy now. No issues. Same normal offseason routines. I'm just really excited to get started."

Gardenhire is also excited to have Kubel back, as Kubel was one of the club's most productive players offensively in his time in Minnesota. He hit .271/.335/.459 in seven seasons with the Twins, and received MVP votes in 2010 in the club's last year at the Metrodome.

"We need offense," Gardenhire said. "We need guys, whether it's coming off the bench, platooning, whatever. And we all know, if Kubel gets hot, he can carry you for a while. So we need help with some veterans."

Kubel, though, fared much better at the Metrodome than at Target Field, as was a career .294 hitter in the Dome but just a .254 hitter at Target Field. But Kubel said he began to figure out the park in '11 and started off the year hot before suffering a sprained ankle in Detroit in late May that essentially ruined a promising season.

So Kubel is confident that the move back to the more pitching-friendly Target Field won't get in his head this season.

"It was just blown out of proportion," Kubel said. "I figured some things out for my second year here and straightened it all out, and then got hurt that year, too. Then it turned out being even worse than what I thought it was. I couldn't run then, either. I'm past all that. Those seem to always happen on big years, but that's just the way it goes. I'm healthy and looking forward to this year."

Kubel said he monitored the Twins after his departure and knows the club has struggled for the last three years but believes the organization is on the right track with its signings of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and its strong farm system.

"It's going to be a much-improved starting rotation," Kubel said. "I think we've got a lot of people that have won before coming back and coming over. It's just going to help. I'm just excited to get started and have a good spring and help turn things around here. I know it's still there."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger.

Minnesota Twins, Jason Kubel