Of course, you’d expect a squad with a pair of first round draft picks and two more second rounders to be competitive and manager Toby Gardenhire has exactly that going for him.
He has 2017’s first overall pick Royce Lewis playing shortstop for him and the Twins’ 2018 first rounder, Trevor Larnach in the outfield. Two catchers that Gardenhire has to choose from when he fills out his lineup card were Twins second rounders, Ben Rortvedt in 2016 and Ryan Jeffers in 2018.The Miracle have indeed had some good things happen on the offensive front this season, but when you dig into what’s been a major cause of the club’s encouraging start, it’s the pitching side of the ledger that draws the attention very quickly.
The Miracle have employed a six-man starting rotation and all six have had strong performances at one time or another this season. Three of them, however, have been better than just “good.”
Bailey Ober, Randy Dobnak and Bryan Sammons have 13 starts between them and have allowed a total of two earned runs, collectively.
Through his four starts, Ober has kept his ERA at a pristine 0.00. He’s struck out 26 batters and walked just three. Ober had been scheduled to make his fifth start on Friday in Palm Beach, but was placed on the Injured List Wednesday, with a right ulnar nerve sublation.
Sammons’ strike out total is similar to Ober’s at 25. His fifth start, on Tuesday, was the first tough start of his season. He threw 38 pitches in the first inning, giving up two hits and walking a pair, but also notching two strikeouts. He created a bases-loaded jam for himself, but still managed to work out of it without giving up a run. The Twins typically do not allow their young arms to go back out for another inning after tossing 35 or more pitches in an inning and, true to form, Sammons exited the game after one inning on Tuesday.
Dobnak doesn’t get the strikeouts that Bailey and Sammons typically rack up, but he also has kept opponents from crossing the plate. He gave up his first earned run (first run of any kind, in fact) on Sunday. Dobnak was rewarded for his strong early work with a promotion to Class Double-A Pensacola on Wednesday.
As Sammons prepared for his start on Tuesday, Ober and Dobnak sat down and discussed the strong start that Miracle pitching, and those three starters in particular, have gotten off to in 2019.
“A lot of it, I believe, is going into our pregame preparations,” Ober said. “We’re doing a really good job this year of going into detail on hitters. Really making sure the pitchers and the catchers are on the same game plan throughout the entire game instead of just the first time through the lineup.”
“We have meetings before each series, the whole pitching staff and the catchers.” Dobnak added. “We go across the lineup, briefly for everybody, and then we get pretty in-depth for the top three of four guys, the power guys, guys that get on base a lot.”
“One of the bigger adjustments that we’ve made is being able to go through a lineup and say, ‘their guys have made changes that we didn’t have in our notes,’” Ober added.
Dobnak was also quick to credit the defense playing behind him.
“For me, the defense has been really good,” he said. “This year, I’ve been throwing a lot of sinkers, so I’m trying to get ground balls a lot. I don’t have many strikeouts so I rely on the defense, which has been really good for me.”
Dobnak said he started focusing on the sinker toward the end of his season in Cedar Rapids last season, adding, “This year’s it’s been my primary pitch. I think it’s worked out for me a lot.”
Asking about Ober’s go-to pitch gets a smile from both pitchers.
“High fastball,” said Ober.
So, high heat?
“Oh yeah,” confirmed Bailey.
“No matter what,” added a laughing Dobnak.
“I don’t know what it is, but (hitters) like it. They’re intrigued by the high fastball,” Bailey said.
“Bailey’s got the high carry,” Gardenhire confirmed later. “He’s been doing a good job with everything, too. His (velocity) is down just a little bit from what it was last year. The amazing thing is, he’s got such carry that he’s still throwing his fastball by people and his off-speed pitches are all good. He’s got a good breaking ball, he’s got a good slider, he’s got a good change up and he uses all those. He’s just a really good pitcher. He’s done a nice job.”
Gardenhire managed both pitchers in Cedar Rapids last year and was equally complimentary of Dobnak.
“Randy worked really hard in the offseason,” he said.”He did a velo camp down here before spring training. He’s done a good job and the work’s paying off for him. His stuff looks really good. It’s sharp. We saw him a lot last year (in Cedar Rapids), we know he’s got good stuff. We know he’s a competitor. He’s going to give you everything he’s got every time out. He just keeps getting better. Pretty proud of him."
Despite the hiccup on Sunday, Gardenhire remains very appreciative of Sammons’ work, as well.
“He’s been throwing the ball great. Sammons has been good all year for us,” Gardenhire said. “(Tuesday night) was tough. He battled through and got through the inning, but they did a good job of fouling pitches off, hanging in at-bats, and he just threw too many pitches. He’s a good kid and we want to keep him healthy, so too many pitches in the first inning. Got to get him out of there.”
With Dobnak now wearing a Blue Wahoos uniform and Ober temporarily on the shelf for the Miracle, it’ll be up to Sammons and the rest of the Fort Myers rotation to pick up the slack.
Fort Myers’ 17-10 record has them nipping right at the heels of the Bradenton Marauders (PIT) and Palm Beach Cardinals (STL) in the FSL-South standings. They trail by just a half-game.
Hitting: (stats through Wednesday)
- Lewin Diaz has been the hottest Miracle hitter early in the season, slashing .317/.348/349 (.697 OPS).
- Ben Rortvedt has hit .250, but his five doubles, one triple and two home runs have pushed his OPS up to a team-high .842.
- Akil Baddoo has three doubles, three triples and three home runs.
- Trevor Larnach has a team-high seven doubles.(eighth down was on Thursday)
- In addition to Ober, Dobnak and Sammons, other a couple of relief pitchers are also off to excellent starts:
- Tom Hackimer has a 0.68 ERA in 13.1 IP over eight appearances, striking out 23.
- Alex Phillips has matched Ober’s 0.00 ERA, striking out 20 and walking just three in 13.2 IP over nine games.
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