The emergence of Lew Ford upon his return from knee surgery has been a big reason for that. Ford made his third consecutive start in left field on Sunday in Milwaukee.
"I still want Kubel to play some outfield, but my original plan was for Kubel to do more DHing," Gardenhire said. "I'd like to use Kubel in a platoon with [Jeff] Cirillo, and using him like that should help keep his legs fresh. And if Ford is playing good baseball like this and running around well, that gives me the option to be able to do that."
Ford is hitting .250 (5-for-20) with two doubles and three RBIs in his first five games back. It's been the consistent play he's provided the club both offensively and defensively that has made him the go-to guy in left field.
After a difficult 2006, when he hit just .226 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 104 games, questions remained as to how Ford would come back in '07. Knowing that Ford had missed all of Spring Training and a big part of the early season, Gardenhire had some concerns, but Ford has so far answered them with no problem.
"I was hoping he'd come back fresh, and he has," Gardenhire said. "He's staying on the ball and driving it to the gaps. He's running well, and his outfield play has been good, too. It's been refreshing to see."
A slow go:
The Twins likely will turn to Ford as the left fielder for some time, considering that Rondell White still hasn't advanced to a rehab start yet.
White has been rehabbing the tear in his right calf muscle in Fort Myers, Fla. It's been a slow process, and White hasn't progressed from light jogging because of lingering stiffness in the muscle.
"He still feels tightness there," Gardenhire said. "Whether we are going to get him in some games shortly, all will depend on how he can extend his running program. We have to get past the tightness before we can put him in the field."
In a groove: A big topic of conversation around baseball has been the tremendous start Milwaukee's J.J. Hardy. After the first seven weeks of the season, the shortstop leads the National League in home runs (14) and RBIs (41).
But one person who doesn't seem surprised is Joe Mauer. Mauer and Hardy were teammates on a few U.S. teams in their youth, and even then Mauer saw Hardy's potential.
"I always knew he had some pop in his bat," Mauer said. "To be leading the National League this year, I don't know if even he thought that would be the case. But he's not just hitting home runs, he's hitting the ball, it seems, wherever he wants. I'm real happy for him. But he's got a lot more things he can do, too."
Mauer knows a little bit about the type of stretch that Hardy is going through. After all, Mauer was a model of consistent hitting at the plate last year, when he hit .492 in Interleague Play.
"When you're hitting like that, it feels like the game slows down a bit," he said. "The field looks bigger, and it seems like you have a little longer to figure out what you're going to do. It's a great feeling, but you know it's not going to be there the whole time. You just try to ride it out as long as you can."
The catcher hopes to have a chance to get back into a similar groove soon. He admits that sitting back and watching his team go through its ups and downs lately hasn't been easy. But for now, he said, he has to be patient as he goes through days of just doing little bits of work.
"The leg is doing OK, but it's been a slow process," Mauer said on Sunday, the first day he was eligible to come off the disabled list. "It's still not there yet, but I really feel it's getting close."
Gardenhire said that he likely will give Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter each a breather from playing the field during the series at Texas. Both will hit in the DH spot, with Cirillo spelling at first base for the first time this year and Ford making his first start of the season in center. ... Luis Castillo has not committed an error since May 29, 2006, a span of 129 games. ... The Twins entered Sunday's game with a 5-8 record in day games this season. ... Outfielder Josh Rabe has been sent on a rehab assigment to Triple-A Rochester. He went on the 15-day DL on May 10 with right shoulder inflammation.
"This team made a concerted effort to relax a little bit. In the clubhouse Friday, we had a nice little meeting, and then had a players' meeting. Our meeting was about staying positive and rooting for each other, all those things we always talk about around here. Their meeting came out with 'Honoring the Armed Forces' haircuts." -- Gardenhire, on his team's new attitude
Down on the farm:
Dave Gassner gave up five runs on five hits over four innings in Rochester's 10-4 loss at Norfolk on Saturday. Garrett Jones went 1-for-3 with an RBI. ... Tristan Crawford allowed just one run over 5 2/3 innings and picked up the win as Double-A New Britain defeated Connecticut, 2-1. ... Toby Gardenhire went 2-for-4 with an RBI in Class A Fort Myers' 8-3 victory at Tampa. ... Cole Devries pitched seven scoreless innings in Class A Beloit's 4-1 win over Peoria. Chris Parmelee went 1-for-2 with two RBIs.
The Twins head to Texas for a three-game series with the Rangers, beginning Monday in a 7:05 p.m. CT start. Right-hander Carlos Silva will face off against Texas right-hander Vicente Padilla.