LOS ANGELES — What were the odds, when the 2022 season began, that Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson would be spending Monday of the All-Star break in Dodger Stadium, surrounded by inquisitors, talking about an All-Star Game in which they might participate?
Then again, given the Dodgers’ track record, how surprised should we really be?
Gonsolin is 11-0, the only undefeated starter left in baseball, and he’s fourth in the game in ERA (2.02) and second in WHIP (0.84). Anderson, yet another in a line of players who came to the Dodgers’ organization as reclamation projects and became solid performers, is 10.1 with a 2.96 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and just 17 walks in 97-1/3 innings.
They are more reminders that the identity of the Dodgers franchise revolves around pitching. Anderson, in particular, is a reminder of the more recent phenomenon of Dodger coaches and instructors finding a key that unlocks stardom.
He was a 29-38 pitcher with a 4.62 ERA in six previous seasons with four clubs, four of those in Colorado and another in San Francisco. He cycled through the Pittsburgh Pirates and Seattle Mariners in 2021 and was an underwhelming 7-11 between the two clubs.
The Dodgers signed him after the lockout for one year at $8 million, $5.5 million more than he’d earned in 2021 on a free agent contract he had signed with the Pirates. Somebody obviously saw something that could be unlocked, and in fact, Anderson’s changeup has turned out to be a significant weapon in 2022.
Funny thing, though. When Anderson reported to Camelback Ranch in Arizona in March, he said pitching coaches Mark Prior and Connor McGuinness didn’t start tinkering right away.
“I came to this team with the expectation that I would come here and they would (say), ‘Hey, we think if you change this, this and this, you can be really, really good,” Anderson said Monday.
“And so I went into spring kind of searching for that and then talking to the guys, to my surprise, I felt like they more wanted to see what I do and see the way that I prepare and see how I pitch. … They’re very open and they want you to be yourself and be the player that you are. And they didn’t really want to change a whole lot, which is kind of reassuring, you know, that they think that the way you are is pretty good.”
Coaching and technology are two pillars of Dodger player development, but good examples also matter. In Clayton Kershaw, the future Hall of Famer who will start Tuesday’s game for the National League in his home ballpark, the Dodgers have one of the best.
“I think it just comes down to everyone’s work ethic,” Gonsolin said when asked to explain the Dodgers’ pitching success. “I think we have a great leader in our starting staff in Kershaw, just the way that he goes about his business and the work ethic … and how routine-oriented he is. It’s easy to follow someone like that.
“He feels like a good person to bounce questions off of if I need to.”
Gonsolin’s love of cats should be exposed to the baseball world sometime Tuesday evening, when he enters the game and Dodger Stadium organist Dieter Ruehle starts playing, for example, the “Meow Mix” jingle. But his talent was evident during the pandemic-shortened season of 2020, when Gonsolin had a 2.31 ERA and 0.836 WHIP in eight starts, received NL Rookie of the Year votes, and was useful as a bulk pitcher in the postseason.
His 2021 season was a bit of regression, but thanks to an improved splitter Gonsolin has pitched at an ace level in 2022. And his and Anderson’s performances have been of added importance in a season when Kershaw has spent time on the injured list and fellow starters Walker Buehler, Andrew Heaney and Dustin May are in various stages of injury rehab.
The return of any or all would conceivably be better than any acquisition Andrew Friedman might make at the trade deadline. But the old adage that you can never have too much pitching? The Dodgers are living proof.
Then there are the nightly conversations along the dugout rail, with the starters who aren’t pitching that night positively chatty while watching the guy who is on the mound. Kershaw, as the leader of the group, is an animated member of those conversations, which create a bond while imparting information.
“I’d mess with him all the time (after getting here) and tell him, ‘You’re my hero,’ or, ‘You’re my favorite player growing up, even though he’s only two years older than me,” Anderson joked. “But to be around him, he’s such an interesting guy, and he’s so good at what he does. And it’s not an accident. You know, he’s done it so well for so long. And so just to be able to be around him, the way he prepares, the way he goes about his business, it’s just a true chance to see a pro that’s really, really good and understand why.”
Gonsolin, a ninth-round pick out of St. Mary’s College in 2016, recalled his first spring training at Camelback Ranch and the way Manager Dave Roberts “kind of put me on the spot with Kersh a little bit, and I was pretty nervous. But over the years I kind of got to know him and build our relationship a little better.”
Proof of that? When the All-Stars do their red carpet-type walk at L.A. Live on Tuesday, Gonsolin will be wearing a new, custom-fitted suit … paid for by Clayton Kershaw.