Slimmed down Victor González aims to tip the scales in his favor

Victor González pitches in relief for the Dodgers against the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 20, 2021.
Victor González pitches in relief for the Dodgers against the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 20, 2021. González finished last season in the minor leagues.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Victor González knew he wasn’t the same pitcher, the shutdown reliever from 2020, when he walked off the mound at Dodger Stadium one Monday night last summer.

It was mid-July. He entered the game, his first off the injured list, against the San Francisco Giants with one out in the seventh inning. A debacle followed. Single. Single. Sacrifice fly. Double. Double. He was charged with three runs by the time he got Darin Ruf to strike out to end the inning.

His earned-run average, already climbing over the previous three weeks, leaped from 2.57 to 3.45. He was back on the injured list three weeks later with a 3.82 ERA. By the end of August, he was a minor leaguer again.


“I didn’t know how to get them out,” González said in Spanish.

If the Dodgers are to build a legacy and even start a conversation about a potential dynasty, they need to win more than just division titles.

April 4, 2022

The problem wasn’t just execution. The major league lifestyle chewed González up in Los Angeles and spit him out in Oklahoma City. That, in a nutshell, explains González’s sharp decline last summer, from out-of-nowhere World Series hero in 2020 to triple-A.

Gone was the potent fastball-slider combination that fueled his rise as the second Mexican left-hander rousing the Dodgers’ fan base. It disappeared after months of bad decisions.

“To be honest, I didn’t take care of myself,” González, 26, said. “I wasn’t paying attention to the amount of food I was eating.”

The abrupt fall inspired change. González reported to spring training last month weighing 214 pounds, more than 30 below his playing weight last summer. This wasn’t about the clichéd reporting to spring training in the best shape of his life. This was about saving his major league career before it cratered as quickly as it launched.

The slimmer González solidified himself in the competition for a spot in the Dodgers’ deep bullpen with encouraging performances. His fastball was clocked at 97 mph. His slider command has room for improvement but the bite was there. His changeup, which he rarely used over his first two big league seasons, is a pitch he plans to incorporate more in 2022.

Victor Gonzalez tearfully clutches the Mexican flag after the Dodgers clinched the 2020 World Series.
Victor Gonzalez tearfully clutches the Mexican flag after the Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays on Oct. 27, 2020, to clinch the World Series in Arlington, Texas.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

“I congratulated him,” Julio Urías, the Dodgers’ other revered Mexican left-hander, said in Spanish. “I think it’s a good thing that it happened because we’re now seeing the work that he put in during the offseason. So he learned from that and I know it’s going to be a lot better for him.”


For the first four months last season, before his elite ability to get hitters out suddenly vanished, González gorged. He had the money to eat whatever he wanted whenever he wanted in a post-shutdown world for the first time in his life. So, he ate.

He ignored the warning signs. The inflated number on the scale. The clothes fitting tighter. It was easy to disregard the evidence. He still owned a 2.10 ERA through June. His place in the bullpen seemed cemented less than a year after securing some of the biggest outs during the club’s postseason run the previous fall.

“He was huge for us in ‘20,” pitching coach Mark Prior said. “We can’t do what we do without him. Obviously everybody’s important, but he came out of nowhere and did a lot of unbelievable things.”

González showed up at Camelback Ranch a year ago weighing 225 pounds. By July, he was at 245. The extra weight became a burden. He went on the injured list in July with plantar faciitis and in August with a knee injury.

“You don’t look at it like, ‘I’m going to get fat,’ ” González said. “You eat and eat and when you get to the point where you can’t make a pitch like you want to, you don’t realize it.”

Alex Vesia, meanwhile, snatched González’s standing as the Dodgers’ best left-handed reliever. On Aug. 25, González was optioned to triple A and didn’t pitch well enough for a call back up to the majors.


“I got very negative,” González said. “I didn’t want to pitch. I only went to the stadium, I got in the game, I threw the ball and whatever happened, happened. I didn’t go to the mound with a plan. So, I wasn’t the same. I was in my own world.”

In October, before they went their separate ways, Urías offered González some advice: Find yourself a personal trainer and work with him around the clock.

González already had a plan. He asked an old friend to move from Mexico City to live with him 500 miles away in Tuxpan, his small hometown in Nayarit, for the offseason. He paid him to govern every aspect of his life.

Raúl Rico arrived on Nov. 17. He established a diet, a workout plan and a sleep schedule. González ate five small meals a day. Eggs. Three tortillas. A spoon of rice here, 250 grams of chicken there. Protein shakes after workouts. He reached his goal by February.

“He knew what he needed to do,” Rico said in Spanish. “He knew that if he wanted to pitch in the major leagues again, he had to make changes.”

Named the opening day starter for the first time in his career, Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler always makes quite an impression on those around him.

March 31, 2022

The difference was startling to everyone when González arrived at Camelback Ranch in March. He was greeted with double takes and compliments. On the mound, he was the pitcher the Dodgers remembered, the one who unexpectedly surfaced two years ago.


Competition for a place on the opening-day roster is stiff, even with rosters expanded to 28 for the season’s first month. Vesia, David Price, Tyler Anderson, Garrett Cleavinger and Justin Bruihl are among the left-handed relief options. But González has pitched his way into consideration, eager to rebound from a forgettable 2021.

“I don’t want to go to triple A anymore,” González said. “Who doesn’t like the big leagues?”