Tony Gonsolin, arguably the Dodgers’ best pitcher this season, didn’t make the trip to Seattle with the team Tuesday night. He watched the club continue an odd four-game, home-and-home series Wednesday against the Mariners from back in Los Angeles because he was optioned after tossing six scoreless innings Tuesday. He can’t return for 10 days unless he’s recalled to replace an injured player. That’s the rule.
Wednesday offered further proof that he belongs on the pitching staff, in some capacity, not at the team’s alternate training site at USC.
Julio Urías followed Gonsolin’s stellar outing by posting the shortest start for a Dodger this season in a 6-4 loss at T-Mobile Park that snapped the team’s seven-game winning streak. The left-hander logged just 12/3 innings. He allowed one run on four hits. He threw 52 pitches. The five outs he secured came via strikeouts, but seven of 10 hitters he faced batted with a runner in scoring position.
“I feel, obviously, a little frustrated,” Urías said in Spanish.
Dennis Santana replaced Urias with runners on second and third. He induced a groundout to get out of the second inning. In the third, he gave up a three-run home run to Austin Nola and allowed another run on a sacrifice fly to push the Mariners (8-18) ahead 5-3.
The Dodgers (18-8) had a 3-1 lead on solo home runs from Max Muncy, Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger — the club’s ice-cold triumvirate of left-handed sluggers — against Mariners starter Taijuan Walker. All three players entered Wednesday batting below .200. They each ranked in the bottom 11 in batting average across the majors among players with at least 70 plate appearances.
Pederson and Muncy are accomplished hitters, but Bellinger is the reigning National League MVP. His struggles are the most notable. He entered Wednesday with a .175 batting average, a .565 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, and four multi-hit games this season. The home run Wednesday was his fifth.
“Cody’s earned the opportunity, the time to figure things out,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before the game. “And that’s the way this lineup, this team, was constructed, where there’s not one or two players that needs to carry the brunt of it. So, I just want Cody to continue to take good at-bats. And whatever that means, the result, we’re fine with.”
The trio’s struggles have not held the Dodgers down. The club entered Wednesday with the best record and the most home runs in the majors. They ranked second in runs scored per game. And despite the three batting left-handed, the team’s splits are still significantly better against right-handed pitchers than left-handers.
On Wednesday, Walker, a right-hander, settled down after surrendering the three home runs and logged seven innings. Along the way, Muncy, Roberts, and co-hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc were ejected in the sixth for arguing a strike call against Muncy. The Dodgers offense, however, battled back against the Seattle bullpen to threaten a comeback before Corey Seager struck out with the bases loaded to end the game.
Above all, the Dodgers have the best record in the majors because they own the best earned-run average. And Gonsolin, who reported late to training camp after testing positive for COVID-19, has been a significant factor in his limited opportunities.
The 26-year-old has posted 142/3 scoreless innings across three starts. Last week, he recorded a career-high eight strikeouts in 42/3 innings against the San Diego Padres. His six innings Tuesday matched a career high. His fastball touched 98 mph for the first time in years. His split-change, an unusual pitch at the center of his arsenal, flummoxed hitters.
He has proved he deserves a spot on the Dodgers’ pitching staff, in the rotation or the bullpen, but Roberts said the plan all along was to option him. Gonsolin was recalled to give the Dodgers a six-man rotation to weather 17 games in 17 days. The organization decided a fresh arm for the bullpen was preferable with an off day Monday and Alex Wood’s imminent return from the injured list. So, rookie left-hander Victor Gonzalez was called up to replace him. Gonzalez threw two scoreless innings Wednesday in his second career appearance.
“Tony’s done everything he can do and so that’s a good thing for the organization, that’s a good thing for the Dodgers,” Roberts said. “So, our message to Tony was just to continue to keep that edge, keep pitching well, and be ready.”
Gonsolin will return. He’s been too good not to get another chance. He’ll probably end up on the playoff roster, should the Dodgers not collapse in the standings over the next five weeks. Wednesday showed again that he deserves a spot.
Three Dodgers takeaways
1. Justin Turner extended his hitting streak to 13 games with an RBI single in the eighth inning to give the Dodgers their fourth run after the three solo homers. He is three games shy of tying the longest hitting of his career, set in April 2017.
2. Roberts said Alex Wood will throw four-inning simulated game Monday for the next step in his recovery from shoulder inflammation. Wood completed a three-inning simulated game Tuesday.
3. Utilityman Zach McKinstry, right-hander Josh Sborz, and catcher Rocky Gale comprise the Dodgers’ three-man taxi squad for the two-game series in Seattle. McKinstry was put on the Dodgers roster earlier this month but has yet to appear in a major-league game.
Castillo reported from Los Angeles.