Tony Gonsolin Shows He's Big-Game Ready As Playoffs Approach
SAN DIEGO—For the Dodgers to get where they want to go, they’re going to need their young pitchers to step up.
Walker Buehler has been sent to the injured list twice with blisters. Clayton Kershaw’s postseason struggles are well-documented. Alex Wood just returned from shoulder inflammation and is pitching strictly in relief.
The fact the postseason was expanded to include an additional round meant starting pitching depth was already going to be critically important. With Tuesday’s news there will be no off days during of any of the first three rounds, having at least four healthy, quality starters went from “beneficial” to “mandatory” for any team harboring World Series dreams.
At the very least, the Dodgers can now rest easier knowing one of their rookie righthanders can deliver in a big game.
Tony Gonsolin pitched seven dominant innings to shut down baseball’s highest-scoring offense entering the day, and the Dodgers beat the Padres 3-1 in a matchup with major implications for the National League West race and postseason seeding.
The win ensured the Dodgers will leave San Diego in first place in the division. If they had lost, they would have entered Wednesday’s rubber match with just a half-game lead over the Padres and been at risk of falling out of first with a loss.
“Every game I throw is the biggest game for me,” Gonsolin said. “I just wanted to go out there and throw strikes and give our guys a chance and go as deep as possible.”
Gonsolin, the Dodgers’ No. 5 prospect and No. 82 overall entering the year, made sure they never had to worry about losing their grip on first place. The 26-year-old righthander allowed only four hits and didn’t issue a walk. The only run he allowed scored on a bunt single.
After the Padres crawled within a run on that bunt single in the bottom of the third, Gonsolin retired 14 of the final 15 batters he faced to stifle any hopes of a comeback.
“I’m not putting him in that category quite yet, but he was smelling it and there were signs of another guy on our staff that you can see that smells It,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, alluding to Clayton Kershaw. “He’s been fortunate enough to be around that player No. 22 for a year and a half and see some things. Tonight was really good to see him.”
It was the first time Gonsolin completed seven innings in his major league career. It was just the fourth time he did it any level since the Dodgers drafted him in the ninth round of the 2016 draft out of St. Mary’s.
“That was awesome,” Gonsolin said. “I love to go out there and compete with whoever is up to bat. It was nice that Doc let me go out for the seventh.”
That Gonsolin pitched well was by no means a surprise. He was the Dodgers minor league pitcher of the year in 2018, pitched to a 2.93 ERA in his first taste of the majors in 2019 and had a 1.57 ERA through six appearances (five starts) entering Tuesday. The Dodgers cleared out a rotation spot for him by trading Ross Stripling at the deadline, a show of confidence in Gonsolin’s stuff and readiness to handle a larger role.
But it was no exaggeration to say this was the biggest of Gonsolin’s 12 career starts. The Padres entered on an eight-game winning streak and were barreling toward the Dodgers in the division race.
On the road, facing an elite offense, with enormous stakes at hand, Gonsolin delivered.
“Tony is awesome. We love when he takes the ball,” third baseman Justin Turner said. “He’s a competitor. He’s got four quality pitches and really knows how to move the ball around. Just another outstanding start by him. Going out there and giving us seven, that was an outstanding job by him.”
Fellow rookie Edwin Rios homered in the fifth to add an insurance run for Gonsolin to work with. Caleb Ferguson and Blake Treinen combined to hold the Padres scoreless in the eighth and Kenley Jansen worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam with back-to-back strikeouts to record the save in the ninth.
It was the type of performance the Dodgers are going to need in the postseason, from Gonsolin and the pitching staff as a whole.
With his outing, Gonsolin showed the Dodgers he’s at least one young pitcher they can count on in big games.
“You never know until you know and you see it,” Roberts said. “We’ve seen him pitch in big games, big spots, make big pitches. But given the circumstances right now there was a lot of stake, I think he realized that and he picked us up. To lose a game the way we lost (last night) and to come back and be a stopper was really good to see, especially for a young pitcher.”