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The Sports Xchange, Published April 14 2014

Kubel thriving in return to Twins

MINNEAPOLIS - "KUUUUUU!"

Minnesota Twins fans are enjoying the opportunity to cheer for Jason Kubel again.

The outfielder/designated hitter, a 12th-round draft pick by the Twins in 2000, spent the first seven years of his major league career in Minnesota. He went to the Arizona as a free agent in 2011, but he struggled in 2013 while splitting the season between the Diamondbacks and the Cleveland Indians. Kubel hit a combined .216 with five home runs in 97 games last year.

He is off to a highly productive start in his return to the Twins.

Kubel, arguably the biggest addition to the Twins' batting lineup in the offseason, leads the team with a .385 average through 11 games.

"I just feel good," said the 31-year old veteran, a native of South Dakota. "I feel like I fit right in right when I got here, and all the fans made me feel welcome. It's a good feeling."

Before going 0-for-2 with a walk Sunday in the Twins' 4-3 win over the Kansas City, Kubel was riding a seven-game hitting streak. He batted .448 (13-for-29) with two doubles, a triple, a home run and six RBIs during the streak. His .615 slugging percentage ranks sixth in the American League.

"Kubel has been fantastic for us," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's happy. I've always said he can hit. You just have to put him in the right circumstance and the right situation. He's off to a good start."

Kubel's best season with the Twins came in 2009 when he hit .300 with 28 home runs and 103 RBIs. In 2012, his first and only full season with Arizona, Kubel hit a career-high 30 home runs while batting .253 and driving in 90 runs.

"He can hit," Gardenhire said. "The guy knows how to swing the bat. He's playing good out in the outfield, I don't think that gets enough credit. He's played well for us out there."

Kubel said of moving back to Minnesota, "It feels like I haven't left, really. It's been two years, but it's gone by real fast. I'm getting a warm reception out there, which is nice."

With injuries to outfielders Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia, Kubel is seeing action in both playing right field and left field.

"We lost two pretty good hitters out of this lineup in Arcia and Willingham, who were both swinging the bat pretty good. So you need people to step up," Gardenhire said.

Kubel added, "I feel good. I'm just hoping it keeps going as long as it can."

NOTES, QUOTES:

RECORD: 6-6

STREAK: Won three

NEXT: Tuesday - Toronto (RHP Brandon Morrow 1-1, 5.73 ERA) at Twins (RHP Phil Hughes 0-0, 7.20 ERA)

PLAYER NOTES:

--OF Josh Willingham has a "very slight fracture" in his wrist, according to Twins assistant GM Rob Antony. Willingham went on the 15-day disabled list Saturday (retroactive to April 7). Willingham left the April 6 game after being hit in the wrist by a pitch. Antony said he hoped Willingham would return to the lineup as soon as he is eligible to be activated.

--1B Joe Mauer stole his first base of the season, taking second in the bottom of the sixth inning in Sunday's 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals. Mauer didn't have a steal in all of 2013, and he has 43 steals in his career. His last steal before Sunday came on Aug. 26, 2012, at Texas.

--OF Jason Kubel went 0-for-2 with a walk in Sunday's 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals, snapping his seven-game hit streak. His walk in the seventh inning meant Kubel has reached base in nine of his 11 games this season.

--RHP Kevin Correia delivered his second quality start of the 2014 season in Sunday's 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals. Correia allowed three runs on six hits and a walk while striking out two in seven innings. It was the third quality start in a row by a Twins starting pitcher.

--DH Josmil Pinto hit a two-run home run, his third homer of the year, in the seventh inning Sunday during the Twins' 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals. Half of Pinto's hits this season are home runs.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's always been able to hit. He was one of our best hitters coming up through our system. I think he's comfortable here and he likes it here. That bodes well for him." -- Manager Ron Gardenhire, on OF Jason Kubel's hot start upon his return to the Twins.

MEDICAL WATCH:

--OF Josh Willingham (left wrist contusion) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 7.

--UT Jason Bartlett (sprained left ankle) went on the 15-day disabled list April 7. He ran the bases April 11, and the Twins planned to send him to Fort Myers, Fla., in mid-April to continue his rehabilitation.

--OF Oswaldo Arcia (sore right wrist) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 5. He took batting practice prior to the game April 9 but reported little progress in his recovery. He was about the same as of April 13.