By PAUL GOTHAM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Joel Skinner‘s granddaughter wanted to meet the “vampires.” What the child didn’t realize was that Count Dracula resided, at least for the day, in the dugout of the Rochester Red Wings.
Randy Dobnak played the part, keeping the bats of the Indianapolis Indians in the dark for six-plus innings, and the Wings sent 5,259, on hand to celebrate Christmas in July, home with a gift-wrapped victory.
“How about Dobnak,” Wings manager Joel Skinner said of his starter. “He threw quality strikes.”
Relying on a pitch that he only began to develop at the end of last season, Dobnak retired 16 of the first 17 batters he faced, and Rochester downed the Indianapolis Indians, 6-5.
“This year it’s been my sinker,” said Dobnak who started the season with Fort Myers (Class A-Advanced Florida State League). “Last year I didn’t throw until the last two starts of the season. This offseason and spring training I just worked on developing a sinker, get the ground outs that I can.”
On Sunday, the right-hander threw 45 pitches in the 90-94 MPH range. Of those, 24 were sinkers. He finished the day logging 92 pitches – 58 for strikes.
The undrafted free agent out of Alderson Broaddus University credited current Pensacola (Class AA-Southern League) pitching coach Justin Willard with the idea for the switch. The two met last year with the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Class-A Midwest League).
“He mentioned it to me, and I was like ‘sure.’ Started throwing it and the results have been pretty good for me.
“I get on the side of the ball a lot,” Dobnak said of his delivery. “I found out if I throw a one-seam, it essentially dives down for me.”
On Sunday, Dobnak did not allow a ball out of the infield until a routine fly ball off the bat of Pablo Reyes to start the fifth inning.
“When I throw it, basically you see one-seam,” he explained. “I don’t know what the physics are behind it. It just dives down for me and guys swing at it, chase it. I’m going to keep throwing it until it doesn’t work anymore.”
He needed six pitches in the first inning to retire the side on a pair of weak-contact ground balls and an infield pop up. The South Park, PA native used 10 pitches apiece in the second and third frames.
“He’s got a nasty sinker,” battery-mate Tomás Telis said. “He worked ahead today, always ahead in the count. Then he used the change up and slider. That was effective today.
“Most guys throw a four-seam (fastball). This guy’s got a nasty sinker. He’s going to make quick outs like today.”
With the flags in left field blowing out, the performance was right on time for the Wings. Their rotation depleted because of recent call-ups to starters Sean Poppen, Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe, the Wings had to use a bullpen approach in Thursday’s loss to Norfolk. Four relievers shouldered the pitching duties that day. Five arms were used in Saturday’s extra-inning loss to Indianapolis.
“That was really needed,” Skinner said of Dobnak’s performance. “This homestand we’ve kinda had to use our bullpen quite a bit from the standpoint of some coverage. It’s never like the bullpen day. It’s usually a day or two afterwards when you’ve kinda cycled through and you have problems.”
Dobnak improved to 10-3 (3-1 with Rochester) on the season. Entering Sunday’s seventh inning, he had allowed one run on seven hits over 20 innings of work between Rochester and Pensacola.
He surrendered a one-out single to nine-hole hitter Steven Baron in the sixth. He retired the next two batters before running into trouble in the seventh.
Kevin Kramer reached on a two-strike hit by pitch. Will Craig singled, and Reyes brought home the first Indianapolis run of the day with a double. Dobnak retired his last batter of the day – Jason Martin on a tapper in front of the mound.
“Going in, I felt good about him being a sinkerball pitcher with the way the wind was blowing out,’ Skinner said. “We’ve seen what can happen here. Him getting the ball on the ground was the biggest factor today.”
Ronald Torreyes spotted the Wings a 1-0 edge in the first with a one-out solo shot. Wilin Rosario doubled the lead with a solo blast of his own to start the second. Zander Wiel tripled and scored on a Telis groundout in the fifth, and Jake Cave connected on his sixth home run of the season – a two-run shot in the sixth for a 5-0 Rochester advantage.
Drew Maggi tripled and scored the game winner in the eighth.
Cave also added a double to finish 2-for-4.
Skinner’s three-year old granddaughter, Holland, accompanied the Wings skipper for the pre-game exchange of lineups at home plate.
“She said ‘I want to take the lineup card out to the vampires,’” Skinner said smiling.
Holland didn’t meet Bela Lugosi, the famous actor who played Count Dracula in the 1931 film.
“She told us yesterday that she wanted to take the card out like the kids (honorary game coaches) do. She’s never heard of umpires. She’s heard of vampires.”