SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jason Kubel will face adjustments to a new home park, new opposing pitchers and somewhat of a new game in the National League.
It probably seems like a paper cut. A serious injury and forced swing changes can turn about anything else mundane.
Freed from Target Field and a long way past his career-interrupting knee injury, Kubel is comfortable and confident as he prepares for his first season with the Diamondbacks.
"This team won the West last year, and I think it is even better this year," Kubel said early in spring training.
"Hopefully I can get back to my old self here."
Kubel appreciates his new situation, created when the D-backs signed him to a two-year, 15 million deal to be a middle-of-the-order run producer and play in left field.
Like teammate Michael Cuddyer, who landed in Colorado, Kubel will play in a home field more suited to his gap-to-gap style. Kubels first two homers of the spring Saturday were an indicator, as the first was to right-center field and the second left-center at Surprise Stadium.
It was vintage 2009, when Kubel had a career year, hitting .300 with 35 doubles, 28 home runs and 103 RBIs in the Twins last season in the Metrodome. But it did not take the Twins much time into the 2010 season to understand that aesthetically pleasing Target Field, with its deeper power alleys, was not as friendly at it looked.
Forced out of necessity to change his swing, Kubel worked on pulling the ball more in 2010, then concentrated on hitting line drives last season. The Kubel still hit doubles, but his homers decreased to 21, then 12, although the drop in 2011 could be traced to missing two months with a sprained left foot.
I like to use the whole field, and balls just hung up in left field. They turned into outs. Same with center and right-center. So I was still trying to use the whole field, but if I was going to hit the ball to left, it would be no higher than this, said the left-handed-hitting Kubel, holding his hand about 6 feet high.
"It was frustrating, and perhaps the most difficult part was the mind games the new dimensions played on hitters, especially when you have to deal with it all year.
"If one ball you hit good to left field turns into an out, you say, 'Well, I cant do that anymore.'"
He can now, and D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said he's liking what he's seeing from Kubel, not only at the plate but also in his general aptitude.
"I like his approach. Hes smart. Watch him. Hes a guy that processes information very well. Really understands the game," Gibson said.
Gibson pointed to the way Kubel plays defense as an example. Before every pitch, Kubel looks into the plate to see what pitch his catcher is calling. Kubel then can subtly shift his position to account for speed and location. It's the way it is done in the Minnesota organization, and it's the way Gibson wants it done, too.
"He understands. Ill put it this way. There is information available to you that you should know where a guy is going to be pitched. You have to understand the hitter in that situation. Our goal would be that all of our guys do that," Gibson said.
Kubels long career has been a testament to his perseverance. When he reported to the Arizona Fall League in 2004, Baseball America labeled him the top position-player prospect on the Grand Canyon Rafters.
Fresh from a dominant regular season that included a promotion to Minnesota for the Twins stretch run to the AL Central title, Kubel was the Twins' right fielder of the future. Three innings into his first Fall League game, things changed. Kubel suffered torn left knee ligaments and meniscus damage when he collided with Rafters second baseman Ryan Raburn on a popup to short right field. Kubels spikes caught in the Scottsdale Stadium grass, and Raburn slid directly into him.
"At first, I felt like my knee was completely dislocated. It felt like it was hanging off the side. Obviously I couldnt walk, so I got carried off. When they picked me up, I tried to put a little pressure on it, but there was nothing to hold me up. I thought my shin was broke in half and I thought my knee was dislocated," Kubel said.
He underwent knee surgery seven weeks later, on Dec. 2, after the swelling went down, and he missed the 2005 season while rehabbing. He never lost faith in his ability, however, and made the Twins out of spring training in 2006. Kubel had surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee after that year, possibly due to overcompensating, but save for three rehab assignments, he has been in the major leagues ever since. The left knee still swells up occasionally, but Kubel says he can deal with it.
"I didnt have any doubts. I knew I would get back out there," he said.
He has averaged 26 doubles, 19 homers and 79 RBIs over the past five seasons, but he feels those good numbers can improve.
"I had one good year (2009), and I feel I could do that more than just that one year, Kubel said. "I know its in there. I know I can do it. I just need to put it all together and keep going it. Thats what I am hoping to do."
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