SAN DIEGO —
Not so long ago, Tony Gonsolin was an All-Star. A Cy Young candidate. A shining light in the glittering galaxy of the Dodgers’ starting rotation with a 16-1 record and 2.10 earned-run average.
That rotation was so strong — and the prospect of getting Walker Buehler and Dustin May back from injuries was so tantalizing — that president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman didn’t reinforce the pitching staff before the Aug. 2 trade deadline. The price for top-notch starters was costly. Since the Dodgers had the best record in the National League, adding a top-tier starter didn’t seem an urgent need.
The bullpen seemed well-stocked, too, with Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol and Tommy Kahnle also due back from injuries. The Dodgers made some inquiries but chose not to be aggressive in pursuing Frankie Montas (who went from Oakland to the New York Yankees), Luis Castillo (who went from Cincinnati to Seattle) or the Marlins’ Pablo Lopez.
The decision not to acquire another starter has backfired on them, with the end of their season one defeat away after their 2-1 loss to the Padres on Friday at Petco Park in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. Every cliché ever uttered about never having too much pitching has come to vivid and painful life for the Dodgers at the worst possible time.
The forearm strain that prevented Gonsolin from pitching in September and Buehler’s need for the second Tommy John surgery of his career stripped a lot of luster from the starting rotation. Gonsolin, with only one brief, unimpressive two-inning start Oct. 3 and one rehab start in Triple-A Oklahoma City to prepare him for postseason pressure, was pulled after throwing 42 pitches in 1 1/3 innings against the Padres on Friday.
He gave up only one run, but his struggles stretched the bullpen and put the Dodgers’ season on the shoulders of left-hander Tyler Anderson in Game 4 on Saturday.
The Dodgers knew they’d need bullpen games in the NLDS to compensate for the holes in their rotation. Even if they somehow win Saturday and prevail in a fifth game Sunday at Dodger Stadium reverting to bullpen games isn’t a sustainable plan. The NLCS will start next Tuesday and will have only one off day, between Games 2 and 3.
Manager Dave Roberts, in explaining why he had Gonsolin start Friday, said he knew it would require “a collection of arms,” but it could work because the day off Thursday had given everyone some rest. Roberts said he’d use six arms if he had to, and that’s exactly what happened.
Gonsolin, throwing splitters and a lot of four-seam fastballs, threw 42 pitches (25 of them strikes) and faced only nine batters. He gave up one run and left with runners on second and third. San Diego got to him on a one-out double by Juan Soto and a two-out single by Jake Cronenworth in the first, but Gonsolin got out of the inning by striking out Wil Myers. He got Ha-Seong Kim to pop up to start the second inning, but Trent Grisham singled and Austin Nola advanced him to third with another single.
“He wasn’t sharp. Got behind some guys,” Roberts said afterward. “I just think he wasn’t sharp, getting behind, stressed in the first inning. Second inning gives up a couple hits, and I felt at that point in time we had length with [Andrew] Heaney, and it was time to go to him at that point.”
Gonsolin credited Cronenworth with hitting a good pitch that was off the plate, and attributed his struggles to being unable to execute his pitches. “I think if it were a regular-season game, he might have left me in there,” he said of Roberts. “But, with our bullpen being as good as they are, he had good confidence with Heaney coming in behind me.”
Heaney got out of the inning without additional damage and stayed in for three innings, giving up San Diego’s second run on Grisham’s leadoff home run in the fourth inning.
If Gonsolin giving up one early run doesn’t seem terrible remember that it must be put in the context of how badly the Dodgers’ offense has performed in this series. On Friday they were 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position and they left seven runners on base overall. A one-run deficit shouldn’t seem forbidding. It has become insurmountable for these Dodgers, to the delight Friday of an energized, towel-waving, Padre-loving crowd that included far fewer Dodger fans than usual.
This wasn’t Dodger Stadium South. It was a little slice of hell for the Dodgers, whose season has flickered to the point where it could be extinguished Saturday. One more defeat and a 111-win season will be over, at least partly because of that decision not to add an arm at the deadline.