Four hours before the Dodgers defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-2 on Thursday on a hit by Mookie Betts, the eyes of everyone dressed in blue were riveted to the pitcher’s mound at Dodger Stadium.
Manager Dave Roberts and bench coach Bob Geren stood near the third-base line, arms crossed. President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman watched as he chatted with Betts. A good half dozen Dodgers pitchers leaned against the dugout railing, watching each pitch.
No one needed to state the obvious: What they were witnessing could seriously affect their postseason fortunes.
Tony Gonsolin, on the disabled list since Aug. 29 with a forearm strain, was throwing to teammates Gavin Lux, Chris Taylor, Hanser Alberto and Miguel Vargas. The All-Star right-hander didn’t hold back, throwing his four-seam fastball, his slider, his curveball and his split fastball.
Gonsolin, whose injury cut short a breakout season that includes a 16-1 record and 2.10 ERA, sat on the bench as reliever David Price, also on the disabled list, faced the same four batters. Gonsolin returned for another frame, and when he finished the two-inning simulation known as “up-down,” there were wary smiles everywhere.
“I thought things were good, arm speed was good and he used his entire combination of throws, which was great,” Roberts said. “Assuming it goes well, there will be a bullpen in a couple of days, then another one I live for two to three innings, hopefully up and down. I really root for Tony.”
Just as encouraging was the ninth-inning rally to overcome a 2-1 deficit that allowed the Dodgers to split the four-game series. Cody Bellinger led off with a double, only missing a home run, and Will Smith and Max Muncy followed up an intentional walk to Freddie Freeman with infield singles to tie the score. With two out, Betts pinch-hit for Joey Gallo, fouled a full-count pitch and drove a single to left field to score Freeman.
Betts had the night off, but took a few hits in the batting cage in the ninth inning in case he was needed.
“I was hoping not to hit,” Betts said, “but you find yourself in a situation that calls for it and you turn on your brain and you’re ready to go.”
Dodgers closer Craig Kimbrel, as wobbly as ever, was touched by Christian Walker’s home run in the top of the ninth, breaking a tie in a game highlighted by Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen’s commanding pitch. who struck out 13 and allowed just two baserunners. in eight innings.
The pitcher who could be the Dodgers’ next best option at closer, Blake Treinen, admitted Thursday that he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to pitch in the playoffs.
Treinen was conspicuously absent during Gonsolin’s pregame prelude. Unable to ignore the pain in his shoulder, the valued reliever stayed in the locker room talking to a member of the training staff as Gonsolin and Price pitched.
Roberts had expressed skepticism a day earlier that Treinen was healthy for the playoffs. The pitcher did not contradict his manager.
“The body is such a finicky thing that it’s kind of hard to bounce back like I wanted,” he said. “But I don’t think there is a definitive answer yet one way or the other. The only thing I can do is try to get to a point where it can be used, where it can help the team.”
Brusdar Graterol, who throws hard, returned from the disabled list Thursday, a welcome addition to a bullpen anchored by right-hander Evan Phillips, left-hander Alex Vesia and Kimbrel. Treinen’s inclusion is tenuous at best.
“I would use the word frustrating,” Roberts said of Treinen’s condition. “He is not recovering. He’ll give him a couple days without pitching, then he’ll take a baseball on Saturday and we’ll see how he responds.”
Gonsolin is much closer to returning and would be a huge boost. After being inactive for nearly a month, his stamina might not be enough to last more than three or four innings. However, he has only allowed 76 hits in 128 1/3 innings.
Without him, the postseason starting rotation could consist of four lefties: Julio Urias, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Heaney and Tyler Anderson. Everyone enjoys good seasons, but Heaney and Anderson have no postseason experience. Right-hander Dustin May is in the mix, but he has been inconsistent in six starts since returning from Tommy John surgery.
“I don’t expect it to be the same buildup as it was before he went on the disabled list, but I think it’s still in play that he gives us a chance to get in some valuable innings,” Roberts said of Gonsolin. “Him starting a game? So he’s up to us to see how long we can keep him there.”
Lux had good luck against Gonsolin and Price in simulation play, holding up two fingers and insisting to trainers Mark Prior and Dino Ebel that he had two hits. The coaches vetoed Lux’s argument, saying that if the defense had been on an at-bat, he wouldn’t have gotten a hit. Lux barked at him, but it was all in jest.
Moments later, Lux grounded out with a trainer’s fungo bat until he was huffing and puffing and sweating profusely. He then started the game and proceeded to make a poor call, spinning and throwing wildly to second base after fielding a ground ball several steps to the left of him in the third inning. The error led the Diamondbacks to the first run.
The Dodgers responded with two outs in the fourth against Gallen, who displayed a devastating knuckle curve in retiring the first 11 batters, striking out six. Smith tripled and Muncy doubled to tie the score at 1-1.
Those were the only Dodgers baserunners through eight innings: Gallen retired the next 13 in a row, including seven more by strikeout. The right-hander is having a breakout season with a 12-3 record and a 2.46 ERA. However, Gallen had thrown 98 pitches, 77 strikes, and manager Torey Lovullo lifted him.
Roberts pulled Urias out for Phillips after the Diamondbacks’ first two batters in the sixth inning chipped the ball: Stone Garrett doubled to left-center and Emmanuel Rivera lined Muncy in the third. Urías threw 89 pitches, 62 strikes, allowed three hits and struck out five. Phillips struck out two batters to end the threat, Vesia struck out to the side in the seventh and Graterol threw one, two, three in the eighth.
Much to the Dodgers’ delight, the Diamondbacks replaced Gallen with Reyes Moronta, whom the Dodgers designated for assignment several weeks ago. Neither Moronta nor southpaw Joe Mantiply were up to the task, and Betts, his brain clearly on fire, delivered.