LOS ANGELES — There will come a time when Tony Gonsolin is not primarily known for his love of cats, although the feline-themed song snippets with which Dodger Stadium organist Dieter Ruehle serenades him won’t get old any time soon.
But maybe Gonsolin, the one-time outfielder/pitcher at St. Mary’s, will be on the national radar for his pitching sooner than we think.
Sneaky good? Absolutely. Gonsolin ran his record to 8-0 on Tuesday night, best in the National League and tied for the best in baseball. His 1.42 ERA is baseball’s best, and his 0.82 WHIP is second only to Justin Verlander’s 0.81 through Tuesday night.
Given the health issues that have plagued the Dodgers’ staff over the first 2½ months of the season, Gonsolin isn’t a luxury at this point. He’s a necessity for a team that has found itself even with the San Diego Padres at the 60-game mark.
And maybe this is the particular rite of passage in Tony Gonsolin’s maturation as a starting pitcher. When Dave Roberts came to the mound to relieve him with one out in the seventh Tuesday night, after he’d given up one hit through six innings, Gonsolin wasn’t happy.
“Absolutely, yeah,” he said. “Definitely wanted to stay out there. Doc had to say, ‘Give me the ball.’”
It has been a progression. He was called up in 2019 as a part-starter, part-reliever. In 2020, he had a 2.31 ERA and 0.836 WHIP in eight starts in the 60-game season and garnered Rookie of the Year support, but by the postseason he was in the bullpen and largely pitched in bullpen games by the postseason. Last year, he regressed (3.23 ERA, 1.347 WHIP), getting through five innings only four times in 13 starts while dealing with right shoulder inflammation that put him on the injured list twice during the season, on the 60-day IL at the start of the year and again in August.
“I just think it’s real confidence,” Roberts said. “To have that, to develop that, it takes time and it takes consistent performance. So right now, this is as confident as he is of his own abilities and he’s scratching the surface of some really good things.
” … You can see a starting pitcher where, when there’s a stressful inning, pitch counts creep up a little bit. Or after an inning, there’s a sigh of relief. Or there’s a pitcher that doesn’t see the finish line. They want to keep going. So I’ve seen that more and more (from Gonsolin).”
Part of that confidence comes from knowing he’ll be getting the ball every fifth or sixth day rather than being in what Roberts called “the Mitch White role” – sometimes a starter, sometimes a bulk pitcher, not a real role but a jack of all trades. Before this year, he could have called it the “Tony Gonsolin role.”
It is a reflection of the confidence Gonsolin has in himself, the confidence Roberts and pitching coach Mark Prior have in him, and the work he’s done to earn that confidence.
“I think it’s been a group effort as far as his buy-in and understanding his past health and how we can manage it together,” Roberts said. So number one, he’s got to do his part in the weight room and all that stuff in preparation, which he’s done and dominated, clearly. The other part, we’ve got to do our part to make sure that we take care of the player.”
Gonsolin has been efficient in his 12 starts this season, as he was again Tuesday night. Of his 86 pitches, he got 13 whiffs, eight on the four-seamer that he threw nearly half the time and threw mainly in the 93 mph range. The only hit the Angels got off him was Shohei Ohtani’s sharp single through the shift in the fourth inning, and Gavin Lux was given an error on a grounder up the middle by Taylor Ward in the sixth. But the Angels never got a runner to second base.
This has become routine, surprisingly so. And if Gonsolin deserved Rookie of the Year consideration in ’20, and he’s the NL leader in victories and the major-league leader in ERA (and opponents’ batting average at .147) in ’22, could there be a spot in the All-Star Game in his home ballpark next month waiting for him?
“He’s earned it,” Roberts said. “He’s done it. The numbers don’t lie. He’s winning games when he pitches. His ERA’s great, his strikeout to walk (ratio of 3.00) is great. If that comes to fruition, that’s great and I hope he gets that opportunity.”
Presumably, Roberts will put in a good word for his – dare we say it? – current ace with Braves (and NL All-Star) manager Brian Snitker when the Dodgers reach Atlanta next weekend. Or maybe Gonsolin can provide an advertisement for himself.