Late bloomer Tony Gonsolin finally ‘starting to hit his stride’ in Dodgers rotation

Tony Gonsolin has been a revelation for the Dodgers this season.
Tony Gonsolin, pitching against the New York Mets on Thursday, has been a revelation for the Dodgers this season.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

While coaching Tony Gonsolin in the Dodgers minor league system, Connor McGuiness had one drill specifically for the right-hander whenever he encountered some struggles.

It had almost nothing to do with pitching mechanics. But it was emblematic of Gonsolin’s unique development process on the mound.

“When he was in a bad place, or a little out of whack, [I would] give him the bat,” McGuiness said, having the pitcher take swings like a hitter.


It might have been unusual — but little about Gonsolin’s evolution as a pitcher followed a routine script.

The Northern California native was a two-way player in high school and college who once envisioned himself as a hitter first. He didn’t focus exclusively on pitching until after the Dodgers drafted him in the ninth round in 2016. He was a reliever in the minors before making the jump to the rotation and quickly rising to the big leagues.

This year, the 28-year-old has been one of the Dodgers’ — and all of baseball’s — biggest surprises.

After an injury-plagued and inefficient 2021 season, Gonsolin is 7-0 with a National League-leading 1.58 ERA. He has pitched at least six innings in five consecutive starts.

“Mechanics are pretty similar to years past, it’s just going after and attacking guys,” Gonsolin said. “Just having more confidence that my stuff is going to work.”

Clayton Kershaw appears to be on the verge of returning to the Dodgers rotation, possibly for Sunday’s game in San Francisco against the Giants.

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He has helped steady a rotation that has been waiting on Clayton Kershaw and Andrew Heaney to return from injuries, and Walker Buehler and Julio Urías to rediscover top form.


“It’s confidence, that’s the thing you can see more than anything,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s expecting himself to go deep in the game, expecting that if there’s stress, he’s going to get out of it.”

Gonsolin also made the biggest leap yet in his roundabout route to the big leagues, putting together all the tools he learned as a late-blooming prospect to now position himself for All-Star consideration and an increasingly important role on the Dodgers.

“We’ve always known that Tony’s been incredibly talented,” general manager Brandon Gomes said. “He’s starting to hit his stride on the consistency piece of it.”

When Gomes first joined the Dodgers as minor league pitching coordinator in the fall of 2016, Gonsolin was one of the first prospects he worked with.

“He was really curious from the get-go, diving into pitch characteristics,” Gomes said.

Gonsolin’s inexperience on the mound was quickly evident. During instructional league that year, Gonsolin told Gomes he threw a two-seam sinker, one he modeled after Tim Hudson and hoped could play at the bottom of the zone for ground balls.

Then Gomes watched him pitch.

“He didn’t,” Gomes laughed. “He had a riding four-seamer … that’s probably gonna play better at the top of the zone.”

Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin throws during the second inning against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin throws during the second inning against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 22 in Philadelphia.
(Chris Szagola / Associated Press)

It was a blessing in disguise.

Before long, Gomes and the Dodgers started envisioning possibilities for Gonsolin’s future. The team put him in a program to add arm strength and added weighted ball exercises to his routine to increase his velocity. In his first full professional year in 2017, Gonsolin started throwing close to 100 mph as a reliever in high A.

The club’s confidence in him kept expanding.

The next spring, after he was promoted to director of player personnel, Gomes decided to transition Gonsolin to a starting role. That meant dialing back his velocity and adding a new pitch — a splitter, taught to him by former Dodgers pitcher and team instructor Joel Peralta during spring training.

“He messed around with it, and Joel really helped him with the grips and different feels and different drills to get going with it,” Gomes said.

Before long, Gomes added, “it was the best split-change in the organization.”

Gonsolin started the 2018 season in the rotation with high-A Rancho Cucamonga, where McGuiness, who is now the assistant pitching coach on the Dodgers’ big league staff, was then the pitching coach.

Always enamored with Gonsolin’s athleticism and easy delivery, McGuiness didn’t want the right-hander getting “too mechanical” or too caught up with constant adjustment and tweaks.


So, whenever Gonsolin hit a lull, McGuiness put a bat in his hands. There was a method to the madness.

Physically, the swings would get Gonsolin’s upper and lower body movements synced up again, something that translated to a cleaner pitching delivery.

“I would make him swing on the mound,” McGuiness said with a laugh. “He loves hitting, and it helps sequence the body properly.”

Mentally, there was a benefit too, with each hack reminding Gonsolin to maintain the athleticism that helped him blossom in the first place.

“Most people around the league don’t have the weapons that he does,” McGuiness said. “And once he found that rhythm and tempo … he just took off.”

After impressive showings in his first two major league seasons in 2019 and 2020, however, Gonsolin regressed last year.


He battled a shoulder injury that made his stuff inconsistent. He struggled with command, walking 34 batters in 55⅔ innings. Most frustratingly, he rarely worked deep into games, posting a 3.23 ERA but averaging less than four innings per start.

“Last year, up and down season,” Gonsolin said in the spring. “I feel so much better this year.”

Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin sits in the dugout with teammates.
Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin sits in the dugout with teammates during the fourth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 26 in Phoenix.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Now into his fifth season as a full-time pitcher, Gonsolin is approaching each outing better too — something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by one future Hall of Fame teammate.

Like others in the organization, Clayton Kershaw always recognized the potential in Gonsolin’s stuff but also saw lapses in his plan of attack, an all-too-often hesitancy to go after hitters and instead nibble around the zone.

This year Gonsolin has picked Kershaw’s brain in the dugout during games, conversations that have led to lessons on how to be more efficient, how to steal strikes and get into advantageous counts, how to better manage his workload and get several times through an opposing order.


“Some of that is teachable, learnable, and I think Tony is doing a good job of reading it,” Kershaw said.

Gonsolin, for example, might ask why a batter didn’t swing at a perfectly executed slider to lead off an at-bat.

“Well,” Kerhsaw would respond, “he was auto-taking, so you didn’t have to throw it. You could have thrown a fastball down the middle, then gone to your slider, and it’s 0-and-2, you’re not working from behind.”

Gonsolin has found other ways to better attack hitters too, such as increasing his usage of the curveball both as an early count weapon for strikes and put-away pitch that can get whiffs.

“Tony honestly realizes one of his biggest hurdles is trying to be more efficient, and he’s doing that, he’s doing that on his own,” Kershaw said. “He can maybe steal a few pitches here and there, and that’ll give him an inning here and there, which will just add up.”

Where Gonsolin goes the rest of the season could have important implications for the Dodgers.


So far, he’s helped compensate for injuries and underperformance. If he keeps this up, he could become a more central figure in their plans as they push toward the postseason.

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That’s no guarantee. Gonsolin already has thrown a career-high 57 innings, and he hasn’t pitched a full season of games since 2019.

While his underlying numbers are good, including a 2.60 expected ERA, according to Baseball Savant, and 3.04 fielding independent pitching stat, according to Baseball Reference, they suggest he could regress to the mean as the season goes on.

Still, for a pitcher who once appeared to be on the fringes of the rotation, who began the season needing a long reliever to piggyback with him and who followed an unique path to even reach the majors, these first two months have been validation of the talent he and the organization believed he had all along.

“He’s gone through it,” McGuiness said. “And I think he’s come out on the other side in a really, really good spot.”

So good that, when asked if he still has Gonsolin swing a bat from time to time, McGuiness laughed.


“Not nearly as much,” he said.

Lately, Gonsolin hasn’t needed it.