Kubel powers Twins past Rangers

Kubel powers Twins past Rangers

ARLINGTON -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has stressed that in the second half of the season, he wants his club's offense to change things up a bit.

That means he wants the team to rely more on its speed to help generate runs -- much like it did for the majority of last season.

With Alexi Casilla rejoining the Twins for their first contest after the All-Star break -- filling in at the No. 2 spot in the order once again -- and Carlos Gomez earning more playing time of late, now seemed like the perfect time for the Twins to get back to causing havoc on the basepaths.

It wasn't, however, exactly a prototypical version of that speed that was on display in Friday's 5-3 win over the Rangers.

Gomez drove in two runs with a triple in the second inning and Jason Kubel belted his 15th homer of the season -- a three-run shot -- in the third, helping the Twins kick off the second half of the season with a victory.

But while speed might not have been the dominating factor in the game, at least the Twins were given another glimpse that perhaps one of those two speed catalysts -- Gomez -- is starting to heat up.

Coming off a strong performance on Sunday in his club's final first-half contest and going 5-for-8 in his final three contests before the break, Gomez was a spark plug for the club yet again in this victory. He tallied two hits, including the triple that knotted the game at 2, and provided an early offensive lift.

Yet it was an at-bat by Gomez, who struggled offensively early in the season, that didn't result in a hit which pleased his manager the most. In his third plate appearance, Gomez shot a ball down the first-base line as the infield was pulled in.

"He went with the pitch, stayed on it and shot a ball to first base. That's what we've been hoping to see," Gardenhire said. "For him to stay inside the zone and don't get too wild. He's a good player. He's got a lot of talent. It's just harnessing it and using it the right way. The last couple of ballgames, he's done that very well. If he continues to do that, he can really help us."

Gomez's triple helped the Twins battle back from a rough first inning. Starter Glen Perkins, who lasted just five innings while throwing 102 pitches, had put the Twins in a 2-0 hole thanks to Josh Hamilton's two-run homer in the first inning.

But in the second, Joe Crede and Brendan Harris hit back-to-back singles off Rangers starter Vicente Padilla with two outs to start a rally. That's when Gomez lined a ball to left-center field, allowing both runs to score, and recorded his fourth triple of the season by barely beating the throw to third.

"Every time I hit the ball in the gap, I go for third -- even more when I've got a man on first," Gomez said. "I know there's a chance that a guy gets thrown out at home, and I want to try to get thrown out at third and at least let the run score."

One inning after Gomez's triple, the Twins look their first lead on Kubel's homer. Joe Mauer snapped an 0-for-10 skid with a single to center with one out in the third. Justin Morneau followed with a double to left field before Kubel deposited his homer into the right-field seats, giving Minnesota a 5-2 lead.

Casilla's return didn't match up to Gomez's night. He went 0-for-4 at the plate and wasn't quite in the right spot on some defensive plays, after not having looked into the dugout at the coaching staff for where he should be placed. But Gardenhire felt he saw some positives from the second baseman.

"He had some good at-bats," Gardenhire said. "His first at-bat was good. He got deep in the count. He chased a couple of pitches, but I just want him to play the game, and he was playing the game out there."

Perhaps an even bigger positive for the Twins than Gomez's night was the scoreless four-inning effort from their bullpen following Perkins' exit. While there has been plenty of talk about the club needing an extra arm for the late innings, the Twins might have found another solid option in Bobby Keppel.

On Friday, Keppel took over for Perkins (5-5) in the sixth and pitched two scoreless frames -- not allowing a hit while striking out three. It dropped Keppel's ERA to 0.63 over 14 1/3 innings (six appearances), and the Twins feel like they've found someone to give their 'pen a boost.

"I don't want to jinx the guy," Gardenhire said. "He's throwing the ball really good right now. ... He's got such a good sinker, with a really good angle. He can really help us out in the second half if he continues to do that."

Following Keppel's performance, the Twins were then able to use a combination of Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier in the eighth, while Joe Nathan pitched the ninth and captured his 24th save of the season.

While Keppel knows that the club is gaining confidence in him by the fact he's being used in more late-game situations, he's not quite ready just yet for all the praise -- some of his teammates have called him "dominant" since being called up -- that's being heaped on him.

"It's exciting to help a team win," said Keppel. "But I've pitched now six times. These guys have 40 innings, and I have 14. This is a small sample size. I hope I can continue this. But to say dominant after 14 innings, that's ludicrous to me."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.