In an era defined by shorter starts and strategic bullpen deployment, traditional seven-inning outings almost have become accomplishments themselves, individual badges of honor growing rarer by the season.
For a starter to go seven these days, he must be pitching nearly flawlessly; he must manage the elusive third time through the opposition’s order. Most of all, he must have the trust of his manager even when some metrics might suggest deciding otherwise.
All three were true when Tony Gonsolin emerged from the dugout during the seventh-inning stretch Tuesday, returning to the mound to complete the best — and longest — performance of his blossoming career.
For the first time as a big-leaguer, the 26-year-old got through seven innings, allowing only one run and four hits without a walk in the Dodgers’ series-tying 3-1 win over the NL West Division-contending San Diego Padres.
“We’ve seen some good ones from Tony,” manager Dave Roberts said, “but looking at this ballclub and the focus that they have and certainly what’s at stake, for Tony to go seven was really remarkable.”
Even with only two strikeouts, Gonsolin silenced a Padres lineup that had won eight straight games to close the Dodgers’ lead in the NL West to 1½ games.
After a leadoff double in the third led to San Diego's lone run, Gonsolin allowed two infield singles the rest of the night to complete just the fourth seventh-inning start of the Dodgers' season and first since an Aug. 20 gem from Clayton Kershaw.
“I think he earned that right,” Roberts said. “Being efficient, held his stuff, nothing was compromised, and I wanted to see it.”
It was the latest test Gonsolin has passed in a uniquely demanding campaign. The rookie opened the shortened schedule at the team’s alternate training site and was twice optioned back in the opening month. After making consecutive starts following his most recent recall on Aug. 30, Gonsolin was moved to the bullpen during last week’s series in Arizona and pitched five innings of relief after starter Dustin May sustained a foot injury Thursday.
But then came Tuesday’s MLB announcement of the postseason schedule, which eliminated the usual off days during the wild card, divisional and league championship series — a format that magnifies the need for deep starting pitching.
If Gonsolin, whose 1.51 ERA is the lowest for any Dodger pitcher with at least 20 innings, wasn’t in the playoff rotation already, his odds are undoubtedly boosted now.
“He’s certainly in the plans,” Roberts said. “The great thing about us is we have a lot of options for starting pitching. We know Clayton and Walker [Buehler] are going to start Game 1 and Game 2, and then you’re talking about a three-game series. There’s some discussions that need to be had with the rest of the three guys. We’re in a good spot.”
Gonsolin said he isn’t looking that far ahead, claiming, “Every game I go out there and throw is the biggest game for me.” He was happiest Tuesday with his balanced mix of pitches, including greater reliance on an improved curveball and continued dominance with his trademark splitter.
“It was nice to use everything,” he said. “Definitely just puts the thought in my mind that any of the four pitches can come at any time.”
Roberts was equally impressed with Gonsolin’s lethal approach and the way the right-hander seemed to grow stronger as the game wore on, finishing with eight consecutive outs.
“He came out aggressive tonight and there was even more in the tank in that seventh,” Roberts said. “You can see the great ones [do that]. And I’m not putting him in that category quite yet, but he was smelling them.”
It almost reminded Roberts of watching Kershaw, the only Dodger with multiple seven-inning starts this season. The manager even praised Gonsolin as a “stopper,” helping the Dodgers bounce back from Monday’s late-inning, series-opening loss.
“We’ve seen him pitch big spots, big games, make big pitches,” Roberts said. “But given the circumstances right now, there was a lot at stake. I think he realizes that and he picked us up.”
Come the postseason, there likely will be chances for Gonsolin to do the same.
“It’s awesome to be efficient and throw strikes,” Gonsolin said, having rarely thrown seven innings even in the minors. “Every outing is an opportunity to try to convince the staff and front office on making the playoff roster. Ideally, that’s the goal. And then at the end of that win the games in October and take a championship.”