MINNEAPOLIS — When spring training was forced to shut down in the middle of March, Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer and Jhoulys Chacin were in the middle of auditioning for the fifth spot in the Twins’ rotation.
Nearly four months later, that open spot seemingly no longer exists.
The group has readjourned in Minneapolis, now auditioning for a different spot on the team.
Aside from the five starters expected to begin the season in the rotation — Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey — the Twins are stretching out five more pitchers who are competing to make the team, which will have an expanded roster for the first month of the season.
The rotation spot that was open during the spring has been filled by Hill, who is fully healthy after an offseason elbow surgery that was expected to keep him out until early June. With Hill back, some of the younger starters will have an opportunity — albeit a different one.
“In a perfect world, obviously with the expanded roster the first two weeks at 30, you’re hoping we’re fortunate enough to potentially take two additional starters with us just for those length options in case we feel somebody’s not ready to reach a high pitch count,” pitching coach Wes Johnson said earlier this week.
A slimmed-down Dobnak got on the mound Wednesday in the team’s first intrasquad game to make his case, throwing four scoreless innings against his teammates.
Dobnak joked that the key to shedding some pounds during his quarantine was eating and playing video games. He didn’t necessarily notice that he had lost weight, but said he’s been feeling good and strong as he sets his eyes on a roster spot.
“I kind of came into the summer camp the same way I was going into spring training. I don’t really know if I have a spot,” Dobnak said. “I’m gonna go out there and do what I can, try to do my best. What’s out of my control, I can’t really control. I’m gonna try to control what I can and whatever happens happens.”
Smeltzer has taken on a similar approach, vowing to control what he can to put both the Twins and himself in the best situation possible.
During the long layoff, Smeltzer spent time playing MLB The Show on PlayStation. He played the video game as himself and used the time playing to work on pitch sequencing.
“When we got sent home (Johnson) said ‘We don’t know how long this is going to be. This might be the only time in your career where you can go home and work on yourself and get better,’ ” Smeltzer said.
“I went home and took care of my business. I’ve really worked hard on the slider. In my first outing the other day against big-league hitters, it went extremely well. I was getting swings and misses on it, results I’ve never seen with the pitch before. I feel confident with it. It comes down to handling what I can. My role is going to be what it is, whatever they do.”
Dobnak and Smeltzer are joined by veteran Chacin, who threw Wednesday, Sean Poppen and Lewis Thorpe, who started in Thursday night’s intrasquad game.
Aside from Chacin, the other four pitchers were all rookies in 2019.
“We’re competing for a spot; we’re going to do what we need to do to win,” Smeltzer said. “…It’s going to be every man that’s going to be involved to have to make this work. I’m going to learn while I can, and we’re all hands on deck.”