FORT MYERS, FLA. – Bailey Ober is good with numbers, and he volunteered some interesting ones this weekend.
For instance? "In my  draft class, there were a couple hundred pitchers [actually 192] taken before me," Ober cited, "and only eight have a better WAR than me now."
Entirely true and, it should be noted, five of those were drafted with a top-50 pick. Ober? The Twins took him with the 346th pick.
Here's another Ober number: How many runs has he given up this spring? No, wait, how many hits? Or even better: How many runners has he given up to reach second base?
"That would be zero," the 6-9 righthander said with a smile. And while it's admittedly a minuscule sample size of only three innings in two Grapefruit League starts against the Phillies and Blue Jays, it's true, Ober said, "that I feel about as good as I ever have right now. I'm really locked in."
But here's where the numbers turn on him. One of the reasons he's so focused, Ober admits, is a number he's been wrestling with for nearly two months: six.
That's how many healthy, experienced starting pitchers the Twins have on their roster this spring, veterans who have a legitimate claim on a spot in the starting rotation. Six, counting Ober — or one more than necessary at any given time.
Since Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, Tyler Mahle and Pablo Lopez are established pros with expensive contracts, and since Joe Ryan was the most reliable and consistent starter the Twins had last year, Ober understands who won't have a job if everyone remains healthy this spring.
Not that the Twins want him to dwell on that.
"The reality is, those things work themselves out. Pitch well, pitch consistently, you'll get your opportunities, don't worry," said Derek Falvey, the Twins president of baseball operations. "We told Bailey to control what he can control. We really like what he's doing."
Rather than let his situation depress him, Ober has used the very real prospect of more time at Class AAA St. Paul as jet fuel, motivating his every weight lift, every conditioning run and especially every pitch on the mound.
"I always have motivation. I take everything with me out there. I wear it on my sleeve. I've got [two] kids to put food on the table for," said Ober, who will pitch Tuesday against the Pirates. "Every step of the way, people have doubted me. I've never been a prospect."
He is now, after an encouraging 20-start rookie season in 2021, and a ferocious four-start September in 2022, when he returned from a severe groin injury to post a 2.01 ERA in 22⅓ dominating innings, with a 22-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In his first big-league start after 3½ months on the injured list, the Twins, partially out of desperation, handed him a critical assignment: Shut down the Guardians in the opener of their AL Central showdown.
Ober responded with five shutout innings, giving up only one hit to a hot Cleveland team in front of its amped-up sellout crowd.
"Probably one of the biggest games I've ever been a part of," Ober said, though the Twins wound up losing 4-3 as their season slipped away. "It's what you dream about."
The lesson the Twins took from that disappointing weekend, though, wasn't that Ober could rise to the occasion, it was that they needed more depth to cover their inevitable injuries. So in January, they swapped Luis Arraez for Lopez, in effect bumping Ober from the rotation again.
"I love Pablo, he's a great guy and he's going to help this team a lot. I totally understand why they did it," Ober said. "I just have to keep telling myself, I'm going to be here at some point. And I know I can perform when I am. So I just have to keep going, keep getting better."
He's doing so by changing his workout regimen in an effort to increase his velocity — his fastball averaged 91.5 last season, but has consistently been around 93 this spring — and reduce the risk of re-injuring his groin. "It's more training stuff, a little bit more cardio. Instead of slower-paced heavy lifts, it's more fast-paced, either jumps or quick squats," Ober said. "I've been putting in the work and hope it shows up on the field."
Whether that's Target Field or CHS Field is yet to be determined. Just in case, maybe Ober should keep focusing on those zeroes, not six.
"That sounds like a pretty good plan," Ober said.