May 30, 2006
More From the Jerk Store
Jason Kubel was recalled from Triple-A when Shannon Stewart went on the disabled list last week. After initially indicating that he'd find Kubel consistent playing time at designated hitter or in a left-field platoon with Lew Ford, Ron Gardenhire has predictably jerked Kubel in and out of the Twins' lineup much the same way he did the first time around.
Kubel started just two of the Twins' six games in his first week back with the team. Some of those benchings can be blamed on the team facing left-handed starting pitchers, but Kubel was also out of the lineup against right-handed starter Joel Pineiro. Plus, rather than benching a rookie for four of his first five games, Gardenhire certainly could have tossed Kubel a bone against one of the southpaws. After all, Kubel was hitting .306/.390/.639 against lefties at Rochester.
Instead, Kubel rotted on the bench. In addition to playing sporadically, Kubel's two starts came against Felix Hernandez and John Lackey--two of the best starting pitchers in the league--and his only other at-bats came as a ninth-inning pinch-hitter against elite reliever Rafael Betancourt and as a defensive replacement during C.C. Sabathia's complete-game shutout.
Here's what Kubel told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
I'm not used to [being on the bench]. It takes me a while to get back into it that way. I haven't had a good feeling since I've been up here.
Earlier this season the Twins jerked Kubel around, which is bad enough. This time they're jerking him around and making life especially tough for Kubel by putting him in particularly difficult situations in the rare instances when he's been allowed to play. As you might expect from a rookie getting eight at-bats in a week against tough pitchers with days on the bench in between starts, Kubel struggled.
One of the main things I've harped on here over the years is that by jerking around young position players the Twins have stunted the development of many of their most promising hitters. There are numerous examples of this happening--from Michael Cuddyer and David Ortiz to Jason Bartlett and Michael Restovich--with the most recent being Kubel.
Last month I chronicled Kubel's journey from "winning" the right-field job out of spring training to being benched after a week and demoted to Triple-A after two weeks. In addition to laying out exactly how the Twins had jerked Kubel around, I concluded the piece with a prediction about Kubel's future:
When Kubel does return to the Twins he'll almost certainly be feeling added pressure because of how he was treated this time, which is the exact opposite of how you want a young player to feel.
Sure enough, it's clear that Kubel is feeling immense pressure to perform well immediately in order to avoid being jerked around again. Here's what Gardenhire told Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune:
Right now, he thinks every time he makes an out it means he's going back to the minors.
The amazing thing is that Gardenhire seems completely unaware of the fact that he and Terry Ryan are the people causing Kubel to feel that way. The reason Kubel "thinks every time he makes an out it means he's going back to the minors" is that earlier this season that's essentially what happened.
Here's what Gardenhire told Glenn Rabney of MLB.com:
It seems like he's trying to prove something to everybody while we don't necessarily want him to prove anything. We just want him to relax and get some at-bats.
How is it even possible for a manager to have this little awareness of what impact his actions have on players? And how exactly is Kubel supposed to "relax and get some at-bats" when he's playing twice a week?
Here's one last Gardenhire quote from that same article on MLB.com:
He thinks he has to get it done or he's out of here, and that's one of the issues with younger players.
If you ask "younger players" on teams that actually put them in the lineup and commit to keeping them there, I'll bet you'll find that they don't have nearly the same "issues" that the Twins' jerked-around hitters have. Through their own doing the Twins have created an environment where young hitters become basket cases who begin to doubt themselves and fear for their job with every poor at-bat.
The most maddening part is that Gardenhire seems surprised when it happens, completely oblivious about his own role in giving "younger hitters" those "issues" on an annual basis. Gardenhire and Ryan have gone out of their way to make life overly difficult for young position players over the years, and sadly they've been very successful.
Given a chance to start a game against a run-of-the-mill right-handed pitcher last night Kubel delivered his first homer of the season, a solo shot to center field off Jeff Weaver. If he's lucky, he might actually be in the lineup tomorrow too.