The first time Tony Gonsolin walked off the mound mid-inning Tuesday night, it was by accident, the Dodgers starter heading for the dugout prematurely when he mistakenly thought the second out in the third inning was the third.
In the top of the seventh, Gonsolin vacated the rubber in the middle of an inning again. This time, however, there was no mix up. When manager Dave Roberts came to pull him after 6 ⅓ scoreless inning, he didn’t have a choice.
The Dodgers went on to beat the Angels in the first of a two-game Freeway Series at Dodger Stadium, winning 2-0 behind a bases-loaded walk from Angels starter Noah Syndergaard in the fourth, a solo home run by Mookie Betts in the eighth, and a save from closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth after he escaped a bases-loaded jam.
Gonsolin was the biggest factor, though, continuing his stellar start to the season by improving to 8-0 and lowering his ERA to 1.42 — both major-league bests.
Yet, it was Roberts’ decision to remove Gonsolin with one out in the seventh, and the pitcher’s ensuing reaction that best illustrated the current state of the Dodgers season.
With Walker Buehler out until at least late August or early September because of a flexor strain in his elbow, the Dodgers are in need of others on their staff to pitch like an ace.
So far, Gonsolin has looked most like the part, using his wicked fastball-splitter-slider arsenal to effect once again against the Angels in a one-hit, two-walk, six-strikeout start.
However, Gonsolin hasn’t pitched a full season since 2019. And for as sharp as he’s looked, the Dodgers are trying to safeguard his health for the long-haul.
So, even though Gonsolin had only thrown 86 pitches — most of them stress-free on a night the Angels, even with outfielder Taylor Ward back in their lineup, failed to get a runner in scoring position against him — Roberts decided to come get the starter in the seventh, summoning left-handed reliever Caleb Ferguson with left-handed slugger Jared Walsh on deck.
Gonsolin didn’t look pleased in the moment, reluctantly handing the ball over before softly shaking his head on his way back to the dugout.
The Dodgers will likely have more nights such as Tuesday’s, trying to compensate for Buehler’s absence while at the same time not pushing the rest of their staff too far.
Prior to the game, Buehler spoke to reporters about his injury for the first time since it was diagnosed on Saturday, the day after he was forced to exit a start against the San Francisco Giants early.
Buehler said he was “as confident as you can be” about returning this season, given the severity of what he said was a Grade 2 flexor tendon strain. He said he will be shut down for six weeks, and likely won’t return to action for at least 10-12 weeks.
Buehler also said he also underwent an arthroscopic operation on Monday performed by team physician Neal ElAttrache to remove a bone spur from his elbow — an issue he’d had for the last three years, and decided to address now since it won’t impact his timeline to return.
“Kind of kill two birds with one stone,” he said. “We’ll take six weeks, see where we’re at and then build up.”
Buehler did acknowledge the recovery process can be “a tricky thing,” adding, “You never know what’s going to happen on the other side of these things.”
Roberts also cautioned that a long road lies ahead for the 27-year-old — both physically and mentally.
“No player wants to go through that, and you sort of feel alienated, isolated,” Roberts said. “So we’ll make sure he’s included in things and relevant, but it’s gonna be a tough, lonely road for a while.”
As Tuesday’s game evidenced, it won’t be easy on the Dodgers either, adding another layer of complexity to their decisions with the pitching staff for at least the next few months.
Heaney makes rehab start
Pitcher Andrew Heaney made what is expected to be his final rehab start on Sunday, pitching five scoreless innings with nine strikeouts for the club’s double-A affiliate in Tulsa. Heaney, who has been out since April because of a shoulder injury, could be ready to return to the team as soon as Sunday.
Home plate umpire Nate Tomlinson left the game in the ninth inning after Mike Trout’s bat broke during a swing and hit Tomlinson in the face. The broken end of the bat appeared to strike Tomlinson through a slit in his mask, cutting him above the eye and also injuring his nose. Second base umpire Laz Diaz took over behind home plate for the rest of the ninth.