The Minnesota Twins entered Saturday's Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series needing a win against the New York Yankees to avoid an 0-2 hole in the best-of-five series. With those stakes, it was a surprise on Friday when manager Rocco Baldelli named right-hander Randy Dobnak the starter instead of Jake Odorizzi or any other alternative.
People are often too quick to reply "who?" about ballplayers possessing reasonable longevity or utility. In this instance, however, the response seems appropriate.
After all, Dobnak is a 24-year-old rookie who was originally signed in 2017 as an undrafted free agent. He hadn't pitched above A-ball until this season and found himself debuting in the majors in August. From there, he appeared nine times, compiling 28 innings and a 1.59 ERA -- shiny numbers, though not indicative of his true-talent level.
Indeed, Dobnak pitches like he belongs to the Rick Anderson era -- not the Wes Johnson one. His sinker sits in the low-90s and he relies on throwing strikes and managing contact, with more than half of his batted balls touching ground. His whiff rate was slightly above the league-average (thanks in large part to his breaking ball), but he recorded just over seven strikeouts per nine.
Anyway, Yankees fans did their opposition research and unearthed a tidbit that they implemented in their regimented jeers on Saturday -- that Dobnak had driven for Uber to offset the exploitative wages he was being paid as a minor-league player. If you've ever wanted to hear Yankee Stadium chant the name of a ride-sharing app company, then this is for you:
Whether Dobnak heard or cared about those chants is for the heavens to know. His outing, nonetheless, was short and largely ineffective (some hack columnist will deem it a one-star ride). He threw 43 pitches over two innings, allowing six hits and four earned runs while fanning none and walking two. Six of his seven batted balls were of the grounder variety.
The Twins removed Dobnak in the third inning and it's clear what Baldelli had in mind -- use Dobnak one time through the order before leveraging his bullpen and tomorrow's travel day. Alas, it didn't work. Tyler Duffey checked in and a few batters later the Yankees had a 7-0 lead .
In some ways, you have to feel bad for Dobnak and the Twins. They entered Saturday with the losing active postseason losing streak in baseball, having dropped 14 consecutive games. Dobnak wasn't supposed to be the Game Anything starter, but a lot has happened in the last few weeks to disrupt Minnesota's best-laid plans: Kyle Gibson got hurt; Michael Pineda got suspended; and Martin Perez got exposed as a false breakout.
That's just how baseball goes, of course. Lord knows the Yankees have dealt with having to turn to. But it doesn't make it less crummy for the Twins fan base, and it doesn't make it less crummy for Dobnak, whose national moment -- for now and perhaps forever -- was defined by his place in the gig economy.