Minnesota Twins righthander Michael Pineda, sidelined since Aug. 13 with a left oblique strain, is expected to return next week, manager Rocco Baldelli said. Pineda is expected to pitch against Cleveland on Monday, but not in a traditional starting role. He and Bailey Ober will split the game, each taking a bulk of innings.

Baldelli announced the plan Friday and later added he sees it as a good way to ease Pineda back without needing to send him down to Triple-A for a rehab start. Pineda threw a bullpen session last weekend with another planned for Saturday in preparation for this first professional action since mid-August.

“We can let them go out there and combine for six or seven innings and that allows Mike to slide into the rotation if everything goes well in that start,” Baldelli said.

Baldelli also sees it as a good way to keep Ober fresh and healthy. The righthander has struggled with injuries throughout his career, never throwing more than 80 innings in any of his three previous professional seasons. However, he already has thrown 90.2 innings this season between Triple-A and the Twins.

“It also will help us in the Bailey Ober discussion, keeping him in a good spot innings-wise, us not continually pushing him in the month of September,” said Baldelli, adding that it’s not something they will be doing indefinitely. The Twins have been careful with Ober this season, keeping him on a rough pitch count of 60-85 pitches per start.

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Crowded rotation

If Ober does pitch Monday, as expected, it will be seven days in between starts for the rookie. Baldelli anticipates several pitchers getting similar time off in the near future as the return of Randy Dobnak and Pineda means the team currently has seven starting pitchers in the rotation with Ober, Griffin Jax, John Gant, Andrew Albers and Joe Ryan.

“I think there’s benefit for everyone at this point in the season to see an extra day or two if they can get it. And right now, we can make it work. We’re not going to be able to function with seven starters for the rest of the month. But I do think for a period of time … we’ll probably bring it back to six at some point and move some of our guys around a little bit.”

Dobnak's return

Baldelli said Friday that the team initially tried to push Dobnak through his finger issue, thinking it would be a “minor issue” that he could throw with. However, the team quickly realized that wouldn’t be the case and dialed the righthander back to allow the injury to heal completely. Until Friday, Dobnak hadn’t pitched for the Twins since June 19.

“If you try to categorize them and put timelines and connect timelines between players, it almost never matches up. It’s just the particulars of that individual. It was something that we probably didn’t think originally would take this long, but there was no way for us to know,” Baldelli said.

Extra practice

The Twins’ outfielders were out on the field a little longer during pregame on Friday taking extra fly balls to adjust to Tropicana Field, the Tampa Bay Rays’ domed stadium. Baldelli said the sightlines combined with the general gray color of the dome, especially at night, can be very challenging. With several new faces in the outfield since the Twins last played at Tropicana in 2019, Baldelli was eager to get the team some extra practice.

“This is a very different environment,” Baldelli said. “I’m obviously familiar with this stadium and … it was a definite that we were going to have the heavy-duty hack-attack machine out there shooting some big pop-ups and reminding our guys of a couple of things out there.”

Baldelli played six seasons with the Rays between 2003 and 2010.