Kubel could make life grand for D-backs
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It figured that Kirk Gibson would take a liking to Jason Kubel.
Arizona's new left fielder, like his new manager, has a history of delivering in big moments.
In parts of seven seasons with the Twins, Kubel hit a walk-off grand slam against the Red Sox at the Metrodome, unloaded a game-winning grand slam against Mariano Rivera at Yankee Stadium and hammered for the cycle against the Angels on the Twins' old home turf under the dome.
Carrying 220 pounds on a 6-foot frame, Kubel -- a free-agent signed in December to play left field for the National League West champions -- clearly enjoys taking his best shots at heavyweights.
"I don't know exactly what it is," Kubel, 29, said. "I'm more focused, definitely. I like to feel the pressure's not on me in those situations. I try to put the pressure on the pitcher. I feel, if I'm in a situation like that, he has little room for error."
The D-backs took Kubel's knack for late-game theatrics into consideration when they went shopping for a left-handed bat to help balance a primarily right-handed lineup featuring Justin Upton, Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Young and Ryan Roberts.
Kubel, a .271 career hitter, has averaged 22 homers and 92 RBIs per 162 games. His best year was 2009, indoors in the old building he loved to hit in, when he hit .300 with 28 homers and 103 RBIs.
Moving from Target Field, a pitcher-friendly yard, to Chase Field and its more friendly conditions, Kubel could find himself back in '09 statistical territory.
"He has the ability and approach -- and the opportunity -- to drive in 100 runs," Gibson said. "Our ballpark will treat him very good."
Kubel has three games of Interleague experience at Chase Field. He went 4-for-14 (.286) last year with a double, triple and home run, driving in three runs.
"I like the hitting eye there," Kubel said. "I definitely see the ball well. I hit a home run there, and the triple was appealed, so it was close to going out, too. I'm pretty excited about hitting there after where I've been."
The move to beautiful Target Field did not enrich Kubel offensively. A .294 career hitter at the Metrdome with an .841 OPS, he watched those numbers plunge to .254 and .724, respectively, in the new park.
"I'm ready for a new challenge," he said. "It's a whole new game. I've got to learn new pitching, a lot of other parks. But I'll be looking at every pitcher on video before a series just like in the American League, so that won't be any different."
Viewing himself as a natural line-drive, gap-to-gap hitter, Kubel will enjoy playing against his former Twins buddy Michael Cuddyer in Colorado.
The best that can be said of the NL West parks in San Francisco and San Diego is that there's a lot of grass for those line drives to fall. Dodger Stadium also favors pitchers, but not to the extent of AT&T and Petco.
Kubel's acquisition makes a fourth outfielder of Gerardo Parra, a Gold Glove Award winner in left last year.
"We have three very athletic guys out there," Kubel said, referring to Parra, Young and Upton. "And throw me in there -- just happy to be part of a really good outfield. I didn't really know what to expect -- I haven't done this before. But all the guys have been great, making me feel kinda like I've been here a few years already."
Whatever they lose with the leather when Parra sits and Kubel hits, the D-backs are convinced they'll make it up with the noise Kubel's bat makes.
"He's a winning-type ballplayer," Gibson said. "He came up in a great organization. They taught him the right way, and he plays the game the right way.
"He has a great approach. It doesn't matter if it's lefty-righty ... he's kind of a quiet perfectionist. He also has some dry humor, I'm finding out."
In some respects, Gibson could have been describing himself.
Born in South Dakota, Kubel lived there briefly before his family relocated to Southern California -- a stroke of good fortune for any baseball-loving kid wanting to play the game every day.
Selected by the Twins in the 12th round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft out of Highland High School in Palmdale, in the high desert north of Los Angeles, Kubel set out to prove he was Major League material even if he wasn't an early-round selection.
"I didn't look at it as a chip on my shoulder," Kubel said, adding that he doesn't like to carry around negative thoughts. "It's not the way it works for me."
He reached Minnesota for 60 at-bats in 2004 at 23 years old, hitting .300, and returned for good in '06. His first huge moment came that summer, on June 13, when he turned a 2-1 ninth-inning deficit in Boston into a 5-2 triumph with one grand slam swing, going deep against Julian Tavarez after an intentional walk to Torii Hunter.
The cycle came against the Angels on April 17, 2009. His grand slam in the eighth inning once again turned a deficit into a happy ending, this time an 11-9 final.
It happened again, at the expense of the Bronx master, Rivera, on May 16, 2010. Kubel's line drive cleared the right-field fence at Yankee Stadium, producing a 6-3 win.
Nothing like it: big moment, one swing, exhilaration and euphoria. Kubel's new boss knows the feeling.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.