Young Dodgers pitchers set up to fail in 'out-getter' role in Game 2

Bill Shaikin
·4 min read
ARLINGTON, TEXAS OCTOBER 21, 2020-Dodgers pitcher Dustin May walks back to the mound after giving up a two-run double to the Rays in the 4th inning in Game 2 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas Wednesday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pitcher Dustin May walks back to the mound after giving up a two-run double to the Tampa Bay Rays in the fourth inning in Game 2 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

So the Chicago White Sox are interested in hiring Tony La Russa as their manager? Everything old is new again.

La Russa is 76. Only Connie Mack has managed more games. La Russa was inducted into the Hall of Fame six years ago, and this ranks among his distinctions: He is the inventor of the modern bullpen.

In the late 1980s, at a time relievers were mostly considered an interchangeable group of failed starters, La Russa converted Dennis Eckersley from a starter into a closer and, eventually, into a Hall of Famer.

The closer concept was not new, but La Russa’s bullpen organization was. He defined roles, including what inning you might pitch and what batters you might face. If you knew what your role would be, or so the theory went, you could become comfortable with it and better prepare for it.

The modern manager often talks about putting his players into position to succeed. The Dodgers have not done an optimal job of that this postseason, and their management was most questionable in the use of two of their young starting pitchers on Wednesday.

Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May combined to get eight outs and give up four runs in the Dodgers’ 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 2 of the World Series. The best-of-seven series is tied at one game apiece.

Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin looks down as he gives up a walk to the Tampa Bay Rays' Manuel Margot.
Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin looks down as he gives up a walk to the Tampa Bay Rays' Manuel Margot in the second inning in Game 2 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Gonsolin and May spent the summer going deep into games, not combining to cover less than a third of a game. The Dodgers are running a 15-man pitching staff, with Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler as the only “starters.” There is no “closer.”

They consider Gonsolin and May as two of their best arms, and they want to use them in a variety of roles, often unfamiliar ones.

“It’s a big ask, to be quite frank,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

“These guys are in uncharted territory. Credit to them, they’re not making excuses. They expect themselves to make pitches. It’s different, certainly. But we still need those guys to get important outs going forward for us to win this thing.”

In the regular season, May made 12 appearances, 10 of them starts. In his two relief appearances, both in September to prepare for the playoffs, he threw four innings one time and 51/3 innings the other time.

In the postseason, he has made six appearances, never for longer than two innings.

He has been an opener three times. In his relief outings, he entered the game in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings.

On Wednesday, for the first time in the postseason, he entered in the middle of an inning. He gave up a single and a two-run double to the first two batters he faced. In the next inning, the fifth, he gave up a two-run home run, putting the Dodgers into a 5-0 hole.

In the regular season, May posted a 2.57 earned-run average. In the postseason, his ERA is 5.00.

The disparity is even starker for Gonsolin. His ERA in the regular season, when he started in all but one of his nine appearances: 2.31.

In the postseason, he has made one traditional start, one start as an opener, and one relief appearance behind an opener. His postseason ERA is 9.39.

Gonsolin started Wednesday, with the Dodgers penciling him in for two innings. He gave up a home run to the second batter of the game, and he did not survive the second inning.

“I want the ball,” Gonsolin said. “I want to go out there and give our team a chance to win every time I go out and pitch. … I’m just trying to take it as a learning experience.”

To judge the performance of the pitchers, and by extension the management of the Dodgers, is a bit unfair based on the relatively few innings each pitcher has thrown in the postseason.

“I still trust in them,” Roberts said. “I still believe in them. They’ve just got to make pitches.”

Roberts said Buehler would start Game 3, Julio Urias Game 4 and Kershaw Game 5.

Roberts would not rule out using Alex Wood as a starter, which means Gonsolin and May could be used outside their normal roles for the rest of the World Series. Their role is “out-getter,” and the time for comfort in that role is running short.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.