SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jason Kubel shakes his head a bit at the question, looking at the ground momentarily. He’s heard it countless times since the end of the 2012 season.
“What happened those last two months?”
After a miserable finish to his first season with the D-backs and an offseason filled with trade rumors, Kubel is ready to move on, and he’s stopped trying to figure out how a spectacular start went so awry.
“I’ve said to everybody, if I would’ve known, maybe I could’ve fixed it earlier,” Kubel said. “I’m just looking forward to putting together a strong, full year. We’ll see how that goes.”
Through the first half of 2012, Kubel gave the D-backs all they’d hoped for and then some. Many considered him an all-star snub after hitting .293 with 60 RBI, 15 home runs and a .367 on-base percentage. He stayed hot through July, taking 72 RBI, 22 home runs and a .928 OPS into August.
Then, the wheels came off.
From Aug. 1 through the end of the season, a span of 176 plate appearances, Kubel hit just .171 with 18 RBI and a .624 OPS. He started getting fewer chances at the plate. He had some good days, including a pair of two-home run games, but never got rolling again.
“He came over here and fit in very well, was on fire, had all the home runs and then maybe got a little tired and started not to hit home runs and you start pressing,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “It happens. It could happen to anybody.
“He wasn’t happy about it. That was a point of contention with him all offseason.”
Gibson theorized Kubel may have gotten a bit worn down playing his first season in the National League, without the luxury of the designated hitter spot to get a little rest.
“I know he’s tried to come in a little differently this year, with a different mindset about it,” Gibson said. “He has a better idea what it takes to play a lot over here in the National League without the luxury of the DH.”
Kubel insists he didn’t get tired. He figures if there’s any explanation it was just him trying to force things, letting a couple bad days get him off track and snowballing into an extended slump. Success had come so easy at the start, and suddenly the results weren’t there.
“If it stops happening for a couple days and you try to make it happen, it’s not going to work out,” Kubel said.
Kubel also admits to stewing on the rotten finish for much of the offseason. Making matters tougher were the trade rumors swirling all winter about the D-backs’ desire to trade an outfielder. Kubel’s name popped up in trade rumors almost as often as Justin Upton’s, even after leading the D-backs in RBI (90) and home runs (30).
The regular chatter about a potential trade got to Kubel, he admits, though he dismissed much of it as just talk. Kubel says he was prepared for anything to happen but tried to stay focused on getting ready for spring training.
The hardest part, Kubel said, was the uncertainty created for his family, which grew with the birth of his second daughter last May.
“If it was just me moving around, no problem, but I’ve got the family all set up here,” Kubel said. “We were just hoping it would stay that way.”
The D-backs ended up dealing Upton to Atlanta, giving Kubel assurance he’d be back. From there he could focus solely on preparation.
Kubel says he’s doing whatever he can to help prevent another late-season slump, though it’s not the focal point of his spring.
“I’ve had some bad months here and there in my career, but not where it strung on for two full months,” Kubel said. “I feel like it really can’t get any worse than that. And I think I’ve worked hard enough this offseason to stay strong through the whole year.”
Kubel has hits in his first two Cactus League appearances, including a two-run home run against the A’s on Tuesday.