ARLINGTON, Texas — The group working out at the Dodgers’ alternate training site at USC from July through September included the team’s top draft picks from the past two years and some of their most well-regarded prospects.
And maybe the pitcher who will start the game that clinches their first World Series championship since 1988.
Right-hander Tony Gonsolin spent the summer toggling back and forth between the alternate training site and the Dodgers’ roster, pitching every sixth day either in front of the empty stands at USC against his fellow prospects or in an empty major league stadium.
Gonsolin spent months with one foot in each world because of the Dodgers’ depth and his own bad luck – a positive coronavirus test (which Gonsolin believes was a false positive) that delayed the start of his training camp.
Now, he will start Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field with the Dodgers leading the Tampa Bay Rays, three games to two.
“I’m trying not to put more pressure on myself than there already is,” said Gonsolin, who was chosen Baseball America’s MLB Rookie of the Year on Monday despite only going 2-2 with a 2.31 ERA in nine appearances (eight starts) for the Dodgers this season. “I try to go out there and throw the ball to the best of my ability and nothing changes tomorrow.”
But everything does change for Gonsolin in Game 6. For the first time since September, things are back to normal for the 26-year-old right-hander.
Gonsolin was lined up to start either the third or fourth games in the Dodgers’ first two postseason series. But they swept both the Wild Card Series against the Milwaukee Brewers and the National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres. He wasn’t needed.
By the time he was needed to start in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, it had been 17 days since Gonsolin pitched in a truly competitive situation, limited only to simulated games. He was not sharp and did not pitch well, taking the loss.
His next two postseason appearances came in an all-hands-on-deck Game 7 in the NLCS and just two days later as an “opener” in Game 2 against the Rays. In neither of them was Gonsolin as sharp as he was so often during the season when he allowed two runs or fewer in seven of his eight starts.
“It is the most rested, the most routine he’s had and I do think it will help,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Gonsolin now. “To his credit, you haven’t heard one excuse. He’s prepared every time when asked to take the baseball. But just as far as kind of the regimen, the best routine he’s had leading up to an outing – absolutely.”
Asked if Gonsolin was being asked to “open” Game 6 or start it, Roberts was unequivocal.
“He is a starting pitcher,” Roberts said, admitting he hopes for five or six innings from Gonsolin in that role.
“As much as people want to say there’s a script, the game plays out. And so I’m going to watch him pitch and we’ll see what we do after that. I do know what guys will be available. So, I want him to go as long as he possibly can. That would be great.”
Gonsolin said he was told after facing just six batters doing “the opener thing” in Game 2 that he would be starting Game 6. He has had five days to go through his normal routine for the first time since the start of the postseason.
“Between Game 7 of the last series to Game 2 (of the World Series), I didn’t really have time to get like a lift in,” Gonsolin said of his workout routine. “So I took my lift on that day, the day that I threw, the opener day. And then after that, they told me. So it’s like, ‘Alright now.’ My routine has changed a little bit but with the extra day it worked out nicely. I took the next day off and then got my two lifts and my bullpen in on, it would have been Game 4, I believe, yeah, Game 4. Then – ready to go for tomorrow.”
Mundane as the weightlifting and bullpen session schedule sounds, it is the routine starting pitchers are used to blanketing themselves in. Knowing he is not being asked to do “the opener thing” also means Gonsolin won’t be looking over his shoulder waiting for the hook to come as he was in Game 2.
“I think it provides a little bit more comfort for me,” Gonsolin said. “I’m gonna go out there and I’m gonna throw the ball as long as I can, as best as I can until Doc decides that I’m done.”
Gonsolin’s friend and fellow rookie, Dustin May, has had his own difficulties adapting to a different role in the postseason. May has made seven appearances this postseason, three starts in which he wasn’t asked to go beyond the second inning.
It didn’t go very well. May allowed six runs in 4-1/3 innings over three appearances before Game 5 against the Rays. On Sunday night, in relief of Clayton Kershaw, May finally went from overamped to overpowering. He retired five of the six batters he faced, pounding the strike zone with 100-mph heat.
“I just think that he just did a great job of slowing things down,” Roberts said. “He’s a very emotional guy, amped up, super competitor. But at this moment, the adrenaline is already going to be – you don’t need to create any more. So I think just kind of being on the mound a couple times in this setting he kind of tempered it a little bit and just executed pitches and it was really really fun to watch.”
May said his struggles weren’t about the pressure of the moment, just that his delivery was “out of whack.”
“I just had to make some mechanical cues in my delivery to kind of smooth it out, get back to the norm,” he said.
Roberts said May will be available to follow Gonsolin in Game 6 – along with everyone but Game 4 starter Julio Urias, Game 5 starter Kershaw and Game 7 starter, if necessary, Walker Buehler.
— OC Register Sports (@OCRegSports) October 26, 2020