08/21/10 8:45 PM ET
Morneau's return remains uncertain
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
Valencia making most of opportunity
MINNEAPOLIS -- When Danny Valencia first arrived in the Majors back in early June, his hope was just to help out the Twins in some way.The third baseman, though, has made a bigger impact on the club this season than even he could have imagined. Injuries provided the opportunity for Valencia to gain everyday playing time at third base. Michael Cuddyer was being used at third base before he was moved to first base full-time when Justin Morneau when down with a concussion on July 7. And Nick Punto's recent hamstring injury has taken away another option that the Twins could use at third base. So on Saturday, Valencia made his 26th consecutive start at third base against the Angels. But while getting an opportunity to start is one thing, Valencia has made the most of it with his play. The 25-year-old third baseman is now hitting .328 on the season for the Twins. He entered Saturday in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak in which he's batted .461 but he saw that come to an end with his 0-for-4 performance against the Angels in a 9-3 loss. Most importantly perhaps is that Valencia has answered the questions about his defense by providing a solid glove at third base. In his previous 26 games before Saturday, He made just two errors in 123 total chances and according to FanGraphs.com, he has an ultimate zone rating of 5.2 which means that he has saved the team 5.2 runs in the 47 games he's played at third base. It's a small sample size, yes, but the Twins have been pleased with what they've seen from Valencia. "He's played really well," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's done really well. He's worked really hard. At the times he wasn't playing, he was working hard and doing his thing in the cage and learning the game. He asked all the right questions and done really well -- what we hoped for all along." With Punto re-injuring his hamstring and landing back on the disabled list for at least another two weeks, Valencia will continue to get everyday playing time. When Valencia first joined the Twins in June, his hits came as a result of many soft bloopers. But after some work with hitting coach Joe Vavra to balance his swing, Valencia started to drive the ball. The results have certainly translated over the past 25 games as he's posted a .495 slugging percentage while hitting his first home run of the year -- both in the Majors and Minor Leagues -- and adding 11 doubles. Valencia also has a .416 batting average now at Target Field in 24 home games. His .438 batting average at home entering Saturday had been the best home average in baseball for players with a minimum of 70 plate appearances. So how has Valencia been able to be this productive as a rookie playing in his first ever pennant race? "I don't think about it too much," Valencia said. "There are a lot of guys on this team that can carry the team by themselves. I just feel like I do my part at the end of the lineup and try to contribute as much as I can."
Kubel finding groove at plate
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins don't often see a smile last very long on Jason Kubel's face, but that wasn't the case on Friday night after Kubel's three-run homer against the Angels.Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that Kubel had a hard time getting rid of his smile after the Angels intentionally walked Joe Mauer to get to Kubel and he made his opponents pay for the decision by blasting the big home run. Kubel is currently experiencing his best month of the season. Entering Saturday, Kubel was batting .294 with six home runs and 23 RBIs in August. After a slow start to the year in April when he batted .219 with only two homers, Kubel has slowly heated up over the season and now seems to really be finding a comfort level at the plate. "He is just swinging like he normally does," Gardenhire said. "You go through stretches as a hitter where they are going to get you out a few times. He got where he was pulling off the ball there for a little bit but he made adjustments." One adjustment that Kubel has had to make, along with other Twins hitters, is not to try to hit home runs at Target Field. Joe Mauer acknowledged Wednesday after his first home run of the year at home that the long drought and inability to hit homers there had affected him mentally as well. "It got in some guys heads early and they were like I'm going to get up on the plate and try to pull," Gardenhire said. "Next thing you know you've got all kinds of messes going on. When Kubel is staying on the ball and hitting it that way, when they do make a mistake he'll it, like he did last night."
J.J. Hardy got the start at shortstop on Saturday but Alexi Casilla might get the nod at the spot for Sunday's series finale. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said they'll continue to monitor Hardy and give him breaks so that the soreness in his left wrist doesn't flare up. ... Gardenhire said that Nick Punto reinjured his hamstring in the same spot as the first time he strained it but the club plans to have him do more stretching and less weights this time during his recovery.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.