One of the pitchers who started Friday night at Dodger Stadium has already won a Cy Young Award.
In the Dodgers’ 5-1 win over the San Diego Padres, however, it was the other who cemented himself as a strong early contender for this year’s honor.
In perhaps his best start in the big leagues, Tony Gonsolin stole the show in front of 48,076 at Chavez Ravine, giving up just one run in a career-high 7⅔ innings to tighten his grasp on the majors’ best earned-run average.
“He was outstanding tonight,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I thought he had his entire mix working.”
Echoed catcher Austin Barnes: “He’s going after hitters, and he knows what he’s doing. He’s got a lot of conviction in each throw.”
Indeed, to lower his season ERA to 1.54, Gonsolin did what he has become best at during the first half of this breakthrough season.
He attacked over the plate, hitting the strike zone on 73 of 92 pitches. He amassed eight strikeouts but more importantly mastered newfound efficiency by retiring 19 batters on four pitches or fewer.
His fastball was commanded with precision, even with a lower-than-normal velocity of 91.8 mph.
His trademark splitter and slider were deadly, combining for 13 swings and misses on a night that concluded with him becoming just the third pitcher in the franchise’s Los Angeles history to start a season 10-0.
“I was just trying to stay in the zone,” Gonsolin said. “Let them hit it.”
After beginning his career with three solid yet unspectacular seasons, Gonsolin has emerged as one of baseball’s most unexpected stars nearing the midway point this year.
He doesn’t have as hefty an innings total as some of the majors’ other top starters, with a couple of short early-season outings to blame.
Entering Friday, he wasn’t even qualified for the individual leaderboards, starting the night an inning shy of the minimum inning requirement (one inning for every game played by a player’s team).
But by the end of his outing — his 11th consecutive of at least five innings and seventh in that stretch that has gone at least six — he had baseball’s best walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) at 0.81 and batting average against (.154) to go along with his unparalleled ERA and unblemished win-loss record.
“His growth has been exponential,” Roberts said. “He’s just understanding how to navigate a lineup. … He knows who he is as a big league pitcher.”
Padres starter Blake Snell, the 2018 American League Cy Young winner, was also impressive Friday, recording 12 strikeouts in just five innings.
However, he had to battle constant traffic. After Max Muncy’s solo blast opened the scoring in the second inning, Snell faced a bases-loaded jam in the third, runners at second and third in the fourth, and two more aboard in the fifth.
He escaped each time but had to leave the game after the fifth with a pitch count of 107. Gonsolin, meanwhile, had to that point thrown only 57, finding a groove even after Trent Grisham’s solo blast tied the score at 1.
“He’s got pitches going all kinds of ways, and he’s showing his fastball both sides of the plate,” Barnes said. “It’s hard I think for them to zero in on a specific speed and pitch.”
Over the rest of the night, the Dodgers (48-28) capitalized on the pitching advantage.
They surged ahead with runs in each of their last three innings at the plate against the Padres’ bullpen — on Cody Bellinger’s solo home run in the sixth, Freddie Freeman’s RBI double in the seventh and two insurance runs in the eighth.
The Padres (46-33), on the other hand, failed to figure out Gonsolin, who made sure there was no doubt about whether he would pitch into the eighth inning for the first time in his career.
“I wasn’t gonna let Doc take me out after that seventh,” he said of Roberts, eventually getting lifted only once the top of the Padres’ lineup came up for a fourth time. “Felt nice to go back out and feel good.”
Asked whether he would have had the confidence at the start of the season to pitch like he did Friday, Gonsolin said “yes and no.”
“I feel like I didn’t believe in myself as much as I do now,” he said before countering that nothing he has done this season has surprised himself.
“Just trying to go out there and throw strikes,” he said. “And see what happens.”
He was quizzed about the All-Star Game and the potential he could be the National League’s starting pitcher at Dodger Stadium later this month.
“There’s no need to get ahead of myself,” he said. “I threw well today. I’m gonna celebrate today. The goal is to win tomorrow.”
And once again, he gave brief answers in a measured tone, careful to not indulge too much in his latest gem — even if everyone else on the Dodgers did.
“He’s been so consistent for us,” Roberts said. “I don’t think it should surprise anyone anymore.”