FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Randy Dobnak made his major league debut and pitched in a playoff game at Yankee Stadium before ever facing Division I hitters.
He finally got the long-awaited opportunity on Friday.
“I was a little nervous for my first D-I start, to be honest,” Dobnak said.
Dobnak, whose path has been anything but conventional, went undrafted out of a Division II college before landing in a small independent league, so when he took the mound in the Twins’ spring opener against the Minnesota Gophers, it was the first time he had seen that level.
With two scoreless innings on Friday night, Dobnak kicked off the Twins’ fifth starter battle. Dobnak, along with Devin Smeltzer, who will pitch on Saturday, Lewis Thorpe and non-roster invitee Jhoulys Chacin are competing for the spot, which is open as the Twins await Michael Pineda’s return from his suspension and Rich Hill’s return from his elbow surgery.
“I’m just treating it like it’s any other game,” Dobnak said. “Whoever gets that fifth spot, they’re going to be deserving, and if it’s not me, my time will come. Whatever happens, happens.”
The righty put together a pretty good audition last season, giving up just five earned runs in 28 1/3 innings (1.59 ERA) pitched in nine games with the Twins. He did that after cruising through Class-A Advanced Fort Myers, Double-A Pensacola and Triple-A Rochester to earn the call up.
Friday, Dobnak, who struck out four in his two innings and shattered a bat on the first pitch of the game, said he was trying to work on throwing sinkers to the glove side and locating his changeup, which he was pleased with.
“I’ve been working my changeup a lot and trying to get more depth on it,” Dobnak said. “My slider was pretty good, too. I think my offspeed was better than my sinker today, which was kind of weird, but I was pleased with my results.”
Brent Rooker said he was feeling alright after taking a pitch off the helmet in the second inning. Rooker dropped to the ground and walked off the field with a team trainer.
“He’s doing OK. Nobody wants to see that. But he came out OK, and that’s all that matters. We felt pretty early he was a little out of whack, initially,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “But he came out of it. He kept saying ‘I’m fine, just give me one second.’ And he came up and he’s been fine ever since. We’ve looked at him pretty thoroughly.”
Before coming out, Rooker scored a run in the first inning after drawing a walk.
Gophers drop by
The Gophers dropped by for an exhibition game on a chilly night in Fort Myers against the Twins ahead of a weekend series against TCU at U.S. Bank Stadium. The two teams last met in 2018.
Longtime coach John Anderson, who the Twins honored as their 2019 Herb Carneal Lifetime Achievement Award winner, last month tossed out the first pitch pregame to Baldelli.
“We want to thank them for coming down and spending time with us,” Baldelli said. “I think everyone was very happy to see Coach Anderson down here. It was a cool day.”