Dobnak makes latest case in Twins' victory

August 1st, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Just make sure not to call a “spot starter,” because Twins manager Rocco Baldelli will call you out on it.

It’s almost unfair to call the 25-year-old rookie that, Baldelli will quickly remind you, because Dobnak has pitched every bit like a rotation mainstay every time the Twins have called his name. He can’t help it that the Twins have six veteran starters on the roster. On Friday night, the results again screamed that Dobnak belongs in some capacity, as his five shutout innings and another stellar evening from the bullpen primed a 4-1 win over the Indians at Target Field.

“I can assure you that we have not seen the last of Randy Dobnak,” Baldelli said. “He's going to be pitching us to a lot of victories over the course of his career."

The game proved to be another low-scoring duel between the two teams expected to vie for the American League Central crown, as the Twins evened the series at one game apiece in the second of 10 matchups and reclaimed first place in the division. Even without the Bomba Squad firing on all cylinders, the Twins have proved capable of winning close games on the strength of a pitching staff that could be flying under the radar amid all the offensive expectations.

The Twins’ offense was unable to capitalize on a number of opportunities throughout the evening, but their early damage against Cleveland right-hander Mike Clevinger was enough on the back of a leadoff homer by and two-run double by in the first inning. tacked on a solo homer one inning later, his first as a member of the Twins.

“We had a couple other opportunities, too, that maybe we could have tacked on a couple of runs but weren’t able to do it,” Baldelli said. “But just being able to go out there and put those runs on the board against a guy like Clevinger is a big pick-me-up for everybody.”

Dobnak wasn’t ruthlessly dominant like Shane Bieber was against the Twins Thursday night, as Cleveland hitters worked several deep counts that inflated his pitch count and made solid contact on many balls in play. But in typical Dobnak style, most of those were on the ground or on a line right at defenders as he allowed only three hits and two walks and struck out four in his 94-pitch outing.

Still, it gets to be a little puzzling for Dobnak, who likes to pitch to contact, when plate appearances linger as long as they did on Friday. Four plate appearances went nine or more pitches, including a pair of 11-pitch battles with Francisco Lindor and Domingo Santana. If there’s an area for continued improvement in Dobnak’s game, it’s in finishing off those hitters more efficiently.

Though Dobnak generated 12 swinging strikes in his outing, Cleveland hitters also fouled off a whopping 30 pitches.

“I'd throw changeups, sinkers, sliders and they'd just keep fouling everything off,” Dobnak said. “I got to a point where I was like, 'I'm just going to throw it and if you can put it in play, hopefully you can.' Obviously, I'm going to try to put them away as much as I can. But once you get to a full count, I'm just trying to get the ball in play.”

Thanks to the versatility of the right-hander in moving between long relief and the rotation as needed, the Twins have weathered the absence of All-Star right-hander without any issue, as Dobnak has allowed only one earned run in nine innings while filling -- remember, not spot starting -- in the No. 2 slot in the rotation. Dobnak also had a 1.59 ERA last season and started Game 2 of the AL Division Series at Yankee Stadium.

"I would say myself and the staff probably have the highest possible level of satisfaction with what we have seen from Dobber,” Baldelli said. “Couldn't be more impressed. You look at the numbers and how he's actually gone about it, he’s done it in an ideal fashion. He’s arrived and he’s going to be here and he’s going to be helping us win Major League games.”

Odorizzi is expected to throw three or four innings against hitters at the Twins’ alternate training site on Monday, which could presumably leave another turn in the rotation for Dobnak next Wednesday in Pittsburgh. No determination has yet been made, but that would certainly be a meaningful start for the rookie, who was raised in the greater Pittsburgh area and attended the final game at Three Rivers Stadium and the first at PNC Park.

Whether or not he makes that start, it’s tough to argue he hasn’t earned it.

“That would be really cool for me and my family, just to get to experience that,” Dobnak said. “Not fully, obviously, because they can't come to the games. But yeah, I love starting.”

He paused.

“But if they want me in the bullpen, whatever can help the team win, I'm here for it."