The last time Twins fans saw Randy Dobnak, it was Game 2 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium. As the Bleacher Creatures mocked his spring training side hustle driving Uber, Dobnak lasted just two innings, allowing four runs and starting a winter-long crusade for the Twins to acquire some starting pitching.
While the Twins have added Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Homer Bailey to the rotation, they still have a spot available roughly three weeks ahead of Opening Day due to Hill's recovery from elbow surgery and Michael Pineda's suspension. That opens the door for Dobnak, who should be able to fill that spot barring a massive letdown between now and Mar. 26.
Dobnak made his latest case for the spot on Tuesday as he mowed through the Detroit Tigers in three scoreless innings with a pair of strikeouts and one infield single allowed. Although the Tigers' lineup isn't Murderer's Row, he still showed the type of outing the Twins will need at the bottom of the rotation.
Last year, Dobnak began the season at High-A Fort Myers but rose through the system thanks to his ability to not only throw strikes, but miss the barrel of the bat while doing so.
According to Baseball Savant, Dobnak found just two barrels on 87 batted balls in 2019, but also threw 49.2% of his pitches in the zone. While his .302 BABIP may see some negative regression with more time in the major leagues, he did enough overall to go 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA in 28.1 innings last season.
What might be more interesting are the numbers that Dobnak put up as a starter compared to a reliever. When taking the ball at the start of the game Dobnak held opposing hitters to a .188/.273/.217 line with six runs (four earned) in 19.1 innings. Those numbers went up to .341/.341/.439 as a reliever, but it was also a smaller sample size.
With the Twins needing a fifth starter intermittently, a pitcher like Dobnak, who throws strikes and keeps hitters off balance, would be a better choice than Devin Smetlzer, who could be used as a second left-hander in the Twins' bullpen. There's also Lewis Thorpe, but his chances to secure the spot went downhill after an absence from camp, from which he has since returned.
If Dobnak continues to work on his arsenal in the final weeks of spring training, he could do enough to not only hold a spot until Pineda returns from suspension, but potentially audition for a season-long spot on the big-league roster.