Bartlett May Be Back Soon

Bartlett could be back in Minnesota soon.

In this edition of Twins Inside Pitch, Jason Kubel gets the nod in right, Jason Bartlett needs some more seasoning in the Minors, and much more.

One of the biggest comebacks in recent memory for the Twins will be on display Tuesday night when rookie Jason Kubel takes his spot in the Opening Day lineup, playing right field and batting eighth.

Manager Ron Gardenhire unveiled his starting lineup Monday, with Kubel in right field, as the touted prospect has completed a remarkable recovery from a major knee injury.

Kubel, the top hitting prospect in the organization in 2004, made his debut that summer. He was impressive enough to make the team's playoff roster and start in right field at Yankee Stadium. But then tore three ligaments in his left knee in a collision in the field during an Arizona Fall League game.

He missed all of last season and entered this spring having yet to slide into a base or play in the field since the injury. Team officials talked openly at that time about the probability Kubel would open the season at Triple-A as he continued to gain strength.

But a mid-spring oblique injury to Michael Cuddyer, the projected right field starter, cracked open the door for Kubel, who finished so strong he earned the starting nod over Cuddyer even after the latter showed in the final week of camp he was healthy enough to open on the active roster.

Which brings Kubel to Tuesday at Toronto: his first Opening Day in the majors, with a starting assignment opposite former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay.

"It's time for me to show something," Kubel said.

NOTES, QUOTES:

  • OFs Lew Ford and Michael Cuddyer, both right-handed hitters, are expected to get some starting time in right field, along with left-handed-hitting OF Jason Kubel, at least early on, until somebody separates himself from the others.

  • LHP Johan Santana makes his first Opening Day start Tuesday at Toronto despite moving to the front of the pitching staff in 2004 when he won the Cy Young Award. He opened the season second in the rotation last year in deference to veteran RHP Brad Radke, who until this season made the past seven Opening Day starts for the Twins and nine overall.

  • The Twins announced on Monday that the children of Kirby Puckett, the Hall of Famer who died suddenly last month after suffering a stroke, will throw out the ceremonial first pitches before the Twins' home opener. Catherine, 15, and Kirby Jr., 13, will be part of several pregame tributes to Puckett before the April 11 game.

  • SS Juan Castro earned the Opening Day start at shortstop for Tuesday's game at Toronto, putting the Twins' top two infield gloves in the middle of the infield. Castro joins Gold Glove 2B Luis Castillo for potentially Minnesota's top middle infield since SS Cristian Guzman was an All-Star in 2001, the same year rookie 2B Luis Rivas had his best season. "I think we're going to turn a lot of double plays," Castro said. "I think we can be pretty good. He makes it easy."

  • SS Jason Bartlett, the projected starting shortstop early in camp, was one of the final cuts from camp. Despite being sent to the minors, he could return fairly early in the season if he takes a more vocal leadership role in the middle infield at Triple-A Rochester. "Whether he can do that, that's totally going to be up to him," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I need leadership on the infield."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Rookies on the Twins' Opening Day roster (LHP Francisco Liriano, RHP Willie Eyre and RF Jason Kubel), the same number as last season.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our pitching staff is back and we've added some help on the offense. I think we're going to be tough. A lot of people are overlooking us, picking us third or fourth in the division. But I think we'll surprise a lot of people." -- Catcher Joe Mauer.

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