LOS ANGELES ― As the All-Star Game has drawn closer, each start by Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin has raised the likelihood that he will appear in the game, and possibly start for the National League on July 19 at Dodger Stadium.
Gonsolin leads all of Major League Baseball in earned-run average (1.62) and won-loss record (11-0) after throwing seven strong innings in the Dodgers’ 5-3 win over the Chicago Cubs on Thursday.
Two weeks from now, the All-Star Game will be a part of history. Gonsolin will still be expected to take the ball every fifth or sixth day for the Dodgers. Comparisons between him and the National League’s other best pitchers will be moot. Yet beyond who should start one exhibition game, Gonsolin’s performance in the first half of the season raises a bigger question: is he just this good now?
“I’ve been past that point,” Roberts said. “We’ve just got to make sure we manage him the right way. But as far as performance, expectation, yeah, he’s passed all the tests for me as far as consistency every fifth day.”
Before this month, Gonsolin had not thrown seven innings or more in a single outing this season. In two July starts, against the Padres and Cubs, he’s done it twice. He did not issue a walk in either game, preferring to pound the strike zone and challenge opponents to put the ball in play.
Gonsolin lamented his inability to pitch in favorable counts Thursday, getting only one swing and miss on 20 sliders. Yet Chicago could only scratch across four hits against him. They touched him for two runs in the fifth inning, when Alfonso Rivas singled and Christopher Morel cleared the left-field fence with a two-run home run. It was the eighth home run Gonsolin has allowed in 16 starts.
The Dodgers’ offense rested on the home run too. They hit four.
Mookie Betts led the way with two solo home runs: one in the top of the first inning against Cubs starter Mark Leiter Jr. (2-3) and another in the eighth inning against Michael Rucker. A finalist to start the All-Star Game himself ― the fans’ choice for the starting position players in both leagues will be revealed Friday ― Betts has 20 home runs this season, tied for fifth in the National League.
Gavin Lux and Justin Turner also homered for the Dodgers (53-29), who have won four straight. Lux’s home run, a two-run moonshot into the Cubs’ bullpen, followed a double by Trayce Thompson.
Turner had only four home runs to show for his first 69 games of the season. In eight games dating to June 30, he’s hit four more.
Brusdar Graterol relieved Gonsolin in the eighth inning but was removed with right side soreness after throwing only four pitches. Phil Bickford completed the inning.
“A cramp could be an oblique (injury) so I just felt at that time we’d take him out of the game, evaluate him, which we did, and then (Friday) we’ll see how he comes in and potentially do some testing on him,” Roberts said.
The manager did not rule out placing Graterol on the 15-day injured list depending on the test results.
In the ninth inning, Craig Kimbrel allowed a single to Ian Happ and an RBI double by Seiya Suzuki that fell beneath a sliding Betts in right field. After recording two outs on 31 pitches, Kimbrel walked Patrick Wisdom to end a nine-pitch at-bat.
That prompted Roberts to summon left-hander Alex Vesia from the bullpen. Vesia struck out pinch hitter Nelson Velasquez to end the game, earning his first save of the season.
“It was the second night for (Kimbrel) in a row,” Roberts said. “The amount of pitches he’s thrown, the stress, having a fresh Vesia available ― I just didn’t want to push him any further.”
Gonsolin’s demeanor has not wavered since his 2019 debut. Whether he is starting or relieving, an All-Star or a postseason taxi squadder, he exudes all the personality of a cat draped across a sun-dappled window sill.
Asked Thursday about being a first-time All-Star ― possibly a starter ― Gonsolin all but yawned.
“I’m just trying to go out there and help our team win today,” he said, “every time I get the ball.”
“He’s not going to go out there and talk about it much, which I think is smart,” Roberts said, “but all players are motivated by certain things. To be selected as an All-Star the first time or any time is a big feather in your cap. Absolutely he’s motivated by that.”
“I would assume (it means) a lot,” Betts said. “Being an All-Star in general, I’m pretty sure it’s special to (Gonsolin). He’s just a super even-keel guy. Just enjoys moments as they come, then he kind of turns the page.”