Tony Gonsolin is pitching well for Dodgers, and that’s not a false positive
Dave Roberts didn’t say Wednesday night what will come next for Tony Gonsolin, the sudden spot-starting specialist who recorded 4⅔ scoreless innings and a career-high eight strikeouts in a 6-0 win over the San Diego Padres.
“We’ve got some good discussions,” Roberts said of the shaggy-haired right-hander, who has now twice blanked an opponent this season after being recalled to give the Dodgers’ full-time rotation members an extra day of rest. “Tony’s done everything he needed to do to earn another start. It’s going to be a good discussion. We’ll see what happens.”
It’s not exactly the role Gonsolin was picturing six weeks ago, when he was targeting a full-time MLB spot after an auspicious big-league debut in 2019. But it’s better than what might have been expected from a pitcher subjected to the most unusual of circumstances in this pandemic-altered campaign.
In late June, Gonsolin received a positive COVID-19 test that forced him to miss the opening days of an already abbreviated Dodgers’ training camp. Looking back, the 26-year-old believes the result was likely wrong after subsequent samples turned up no sign of the virus.
Mookie Betts won an MVP Award as the Red Sox’s everyday leadoff hitter. Yet, the Dodgers have him batting second even as his teammates struggle at the plate.
“There’s no way to prove it, but I’m pretty sure I got a false positive,” he said. “Tested positive once. Have not tested positive since then. There’s nothing really I can do about it.”
Forced to play catch-up over the weeks of preseason, the former ninth-round draft pick failed to crack the 30-man roster even after David Price’s opt-out and Clayton Kershaw’s season-opening trip to the injured list.
“In hindsight, it’s easy to look back,” Gonsolin said, wondering if his roster fortunes would have been different “if I did what I was doing [now] in our summer camp.” Instead, “I was just trying to get as ready as quick as I could and stay as healthy as I can be.”
Gonsolin’s season debut came against Arizona on July 31, when he threw four scoreless innings in his first meaningful appearance in almost a year. But he spent the next two weeks at the club’s alternate site, where simulated games and live batting practice sessions are as close as a pitcher can come to replicating the rhythms of the canceled minor-league season.
“It’s a little bit earlier days … kind of spring-training-ish,” Gonsolin said. “They’re very similar to up here. Get in, get your work in. We’ll have our rotation of whenever we’re throwing, days we’re supposed to pitch. But it’s just get down there, get our work in, not stay for too long.”
Gonsolin downplayed the challenge of staying sharp in such a makeshift environment.
“Down at the offsite place, we have some guys that are fantastic hitters,” he said.
His manager wasn’t so modest.
“To be optioned and not play in a regular Triple-A game, something you’re used to — we’ve got some very good players over there at that secondary site, but you’re still playing the same uniform,” Roberts said. “To be mindful that you can be called at any moment’s notice and you’ve got to be prepared, that’s hard. It’s different. But a credit to all those guys that are doing it.”
Despite his 12-day gap between starts, Gonsolin’s stuff was spotless Wednesday. Fifty-two of his 82 pitches were strikes, the only three hits he allowed were singles and his trademark splitter and ever-improving slider looked nearly unhittable, combining for six of his eight strikeouts.
“His splitty-changeup, whatever you want to call it, was just gross tonight,” third baseman Justin Turner said of Gonsolin, who in 13 career appearances (eight starts) has a 2.40 ERA. Turner added, “I know we all enjoy when Tony is on the mound. He works fast, he throws strikes, he attacks hitters. It’s great to play defense behind him.”
Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly’s suspension for throwing behind Alex Bregman’s head was reduced from eight to five games by MLB on Wednesday.
When Gonsolin’s next opportunity will come remains unclear. Eleven games away from their next off day, the Dodgers could use him again to keep other rotation arms rested. Much might also depend on the health of Alex Wood, who is progressing from a shoulder injury that landed him on the injured list last month.
“Tony’s start tonight certainly makes the idea of giving our guys an extra day more sense,” Roberts said. “So we’re going to continue to have those talks.”
The fact his name remains in discussion at all, however, is a testament to his efforts.
“I’m really proud of the way he’s handled everything,” Roberts said. “To stay the course and continue to stay ready, he’s done a great job.”
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