The throng of people — family, friends and girlfriend — awaited Tony Gonsolin in the bowels of Chase Field, down the hallway from the visitors’ clubhouse, with smiles. They hugged and kissed the Dodgers’ latest rookie to debut, their elation for the pitcher with the shaggy hair and mustache unspoiled by the weird first inning that opened his major league career and snowballed into an 8-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday.
“Results were not the best, obviously, but my takeaway was that it was a lot of fun,” Gonsolin said. “It was a first for me in a lot of aspects and you can always get better.”
The Dodgers can live with learning lessons in a loss. The mind-set is apparent in how they deployed their players over the three-game series.
A day after starting four rookies, they gave the ball to Gonsolin, a 24-year-old prospect who solidified himself with a breakout 2018 minor league season, in order to maintain a six-man rotation. It was the latest gambit the Dodgers executed against a third-place club middling around .500, a mile behind them in the standings. On Tuesday, the Dodgers started four rookies, had catcher Austin Barnes start at second base, sat their three leading home run hitters and stitched together a bullpen game. And won. Sandwiched around that, they had Joc Pederson, a novice at first base, start there Monday and Wednesday.
While the Diamondbacks and the rest of National League West competition are striving to play in October, the Dodgers are playing for October with a 12-game lead in the division.
“Those guys are over there playing hard and it’s hard to win a series,” manager Dave Roberts said. “But to put yourself and get outside of this one moment, one game, we’re there.”
The approach fueled a dizzying flurry in the first inning featuring bad luck, shoddy defense and a costly pitch within the game’s first four batters. It took that long for the Diamondbacks to score four runs while hitting one ball out of the infield.
The odd start began with Jarrod Dyson laying down a bunt toward third base with two strikes against the shift. Tim Locastro followed with a grounder to Pederson and beat Gonsolin to first base to reach with an infield hit. Dyson and Lacastro each stole second base, capitalizing on Gonsolin’s trouble holding runners on. The next batter, David Peralta, also hit a grounder to Pederson, a first baseman all of six days at the professional level. The routine grounder bounced off Pederson’s glove for an error and Dyson scored.
Five pitches later, Gonsolin threw a 95-mph fastball to Eduardo Escobar, who crushed it over the right-field fence for a three-run home run. Gonsolin had two strikes on each of the first four batters but all crossed the plate.
“Next thing you know, all heck is breaking loose,” Roberts said. “It’s just part of the process, part of the experience.”
Poor defense cost the Dodgers twice more. In the second inning, shortstop Chris Taylor allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base with a throwing error and the Diamondbacks (41-41) eventually tacked on an unearned run. In the fifth, Pederson botched another grounder to let the leadoff batter reach. The Diamondbacks would go on to score two runs, one earned, against left-hander Caleb Ferguson.
Gonsolin pitched 16 innings in five minor league starts upon his return from the injured list last month after straining an oblique. He threw a season-high 77 pitches in a five-inning effort June 20. He needed that many pitches to record four innings Wednesday. He gave up six runs — four earned — and six hits with no walks, giving the Dodgers (55-27) important innings a day after they needed to piece together a win with six innings from the bullpen. At the plate, Gonsolin, a two-way player at St. Mary’s, hit a grounder up the middle for the Dodgers’ first hit against right-hander Taylor Clarke (2-3) and lined out to right field.
Taylor’s sacrifice fly drove in Cody Bellinger in the second inning and Bellinger homered to center field. The home run was his 26th, surpassing his total from last season. That was all the Dodgers could muster.
Catcher Russell Martin took the mound in the eighth inning and supplied his second perfect inning against the Diamondbacks this season. He struck out Christian Walker with a 90-mph fastball and needed only eight pitches to complete a perfect inning and keep his 0.00 ERA intact. Martin pitched a 1-2-3 inning against the Diamondbacks on March 30.
It was a fitting conclusion to the Dodgers’ stay in Arizona. Roberts had already removed Bellinger, and the Dodgers, facing a six-run deficit their offense is capable of erasing in one inning, were thinking ahead to their four-game series against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field, where pitching will be at a premium. They effectively conceded the game. It is a price few teams can afford.