Randy Dobnak will start the 2021 season Thursday in the Twins’ bullpen. Will he finish it there? Who knows? All the Twins know is they want Dobnak pitching for Minnesota.
That’s why the Twins signed the 26-year-old right-hander to a five-year extension on Sunday.
“Just (his) continued drive to get better and grow,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said Monday.
First called up in 2019, Dobnak has made 19 appearances for the Twins, 15 as a starter and four as a reliever. Barring injury, he will be in the bullpen for the season opener, a 1:10 first pitch in Milwaukee on Thursday.
“We think he can be a really important part of our team,” Falvey said. “We wouldn’t be making this decision and this commitment if we didn’t feel that way. In the early going, he’s team-first right now. He’s willing to take the ball and do whatever’s necessary to help us win.”
It’s a strange extension, a five-year deal worth $9.25 million with three club options that could, with escalator clauses, make the final deal worth an additional $20 million.
Dobnak nailed down a bullpen spot last Thursday when he finished spring training with a 0.66 earned-run average in 13.2 innings, though it seems unlikely he won’t start at least occasionally this season. Beyond Jose Berrios, the starting rotation is composed of veterans in their thirties, none of whom have ever thrown 200 innings in a season.
No pitchers threw much in a 60-game 2020 season, and J.A. Happ, 38, started this spring on the COVID-19 list.
Dobnak had one scholarship offer out of high school, from Division II Alderson Broaddus in West Virginia, and signed with the Twins while playing independent ball. While trying to make the majors, he worked as an Uber driver and a clerk for an accounting firm. Yet he’s done nothing but help the Twins win consecutive American League Central titles the past two seasons.
In 15 starts, he is 8-5 with a 3.41 earned-run average in 66.0 innings. In four relief appearances, he has a 1.00 ERA with 14 hits but no walks in nine innings.
“We definitely see long-term starter potential and upside in Randy,” Falvey said. “And while we all would hope you could run five to 12 pitchers out to start a season, or 13 pitchers on a roster, we recognize we’re going to need a lot of innings from a lot of guys this year to help us get to what we want to achieve, and we know Randy’s going to be right in the middle of that.”
As for Berrios, who has made it clear this spring he’s interested in signing an extension, don’t expect anything announced before the season starts. Berrios, 26, has one year of arbitration after this season and is making $5.6 million with a $500,000 signing bonus this season.
“You can’t rule anything out. I would say we’re certainly not going to rule anything out,” Falvey said. “But before the end of camp, we’ll focus on this one here, and I think that’s all we have for today.”
The Twins (11-15) have one last spring training game Tuesday against the Pirates in Fort Myers, Fla., before breaking camp. First pitch is set for 11:05 a.m. CDT.