While coaching Tony Gonsolin in the Dodgers’ small-scale system, Connor McGuiness had one drill specifically for the right hand when he had some struggles.
It had nothing to do with landing mechanics. But it was a model of Gonsolin ‘s unique developmental process on the mound.
“When he was in a bad place, or a little out of the cat, [I would] give him the bat, ”said McGuiness, after the pitch built a swing as a striker.
It may have been unusual – but Gonsolin’s evolution did not follow much as a normal script.
Northern California native a high school and college two-way player who once first imagined himself as a striker. He did not focus exclusively on parking until he was drafted by the Dodgers in the ninth round in 2016. He was a relief in the minors before making the jump to the rotation and quickly rose to the big leagues.
This year, the 28 – year – old is one of the Dodgers’ – and all of baseball’s – biggest surprises.
After an injury-stricken and ineffective 2021 season, Gonsolin has started 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA. Entering his start Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox, he pitched at least six innings in four consecutive starters, the last of which briefly gave him a National League ERA lead.
“The mechanism is pretty similar in recent years, it’s just going after it and attacking guys,” Gonsolin said. “I just have more confidence that my things will work.”
It helped with a steady rotation waiting for Clayton Kershaw and Andrew Heaney to return from injuries, and Walker Buehler and Julio Urías to regain the upper form again.
“It’s confidence, that’s what you see most than anything,” said manager Dave Roberts. “He’s hoping to go deep into the game, hoping if he’s stressed he’ll quit.”
Gonsolin made the biggest leap yet in his way around the major leagues, combining all the tools he had learned as a late-blooming prospect to adapt himself to an All-Star and play a more important role. has on the Dodgers.
“We always knew Tony was incredibly talented,” general manager Brandon Gomes said. “He’s starting to make progress on that piece of consistency.”
When Gomes first joined the Dodgers as a minor league pitching coordinator in the fall of 2016, Gonsolin was one of the first prospects he worked with.
“It was very strange from the start, diving into the characteristics of the pitch,” Gomes said.
It was quickly apparent that Gonsolin ‘s lack of experience on the mound. During the tutorial series that year, Gonsolin told Gomes that he threw a two saliva boxer, one he modeled after Tim Hudson and who he hoped could play at the bottom of the area for groundballs.
Then Gomes looked at him park.
“No,” laughed Gomes. “He had a four-clover ride … that will probably play better at the top of the area.”
It was a secret greeting.
Before long, Gomes and the Dodgers started thinking about possibilities for Gonsolin’s future. The team put him on a program to add hand strength and added weighted ball exercises to his routine to increase his velocity. In his first full professional year in 2017, Gonsolin began throwing close to 100 mph as a relief in high A.
The club’s confidence continued to grow.
The following spring, after being promoted to player director of personnel, Gomes decided to transfer Gonsolin to a leading role. That meant dialing back his velocity and adding new parking – a splitter, taught by former Dodgers pitch and team instructor Joel Peralta during spring training.
“He made a mess of it, and Joel really helped him with the different grips and emotions and the different drills to go with it,” Gomes said.
Before long, Gomes said, “it was the best split in the organization.”
Gonsolin kicked off the 2018 season in the rotation with Rancho Cucamonga’s high-A, where McGuiness, who is now an assistant pitching coach on the Dodgers ’big league team, was then a pitching coach.
Always enamored with Gonsolin ‘s athleticism and easy delivery, McGuiness did not want the right hand to be “too mechanical” or too busy with constant adjustment and tweaks.
So whenever Gonsolin hit a lull, McGuiness put a bat in his hands. There was a method to the mad.
Physically, the swings would allow Gonsolin to synchronize upper and lower body movements again, which translated into a cleaner pitching delivery.
“I would swing on the mound for him,” McGuiness said with a laugh. “He loves to beat, and he helps to sequence the body properly.”
Mentally, there was also an advantage, and each hack reminded Gonsolin of the athleticism that helped him keep his bloom in the first place.
“Most people all over the league don’t have the weapons he has,” McGuiness said. “And when he got that rhythm and speed… he quit.”
However, after significant performances in his first two major league seasons in 2019 and 2020, Gonsolin returned last year.
He struggled with a shoulder injury that made his stuff inconsistent. He struggled for dominance, walking 34 batters in 55⅔ innings. Most frustratingly, it rarely worked deep in games, posting a 3.23 ERA but averaging less than four innings per boot.
“Last year, season up and down,” Gonsolin said in the spring. “I feel so much better this year.”
Now in its fifth season as a full – time parker, Gonsolin is also approaching every better trip – something one future colleague from the Hall of Fame has not noticed.
Like others in the organization, Clayton Kershaw always recognized the potential in Gonsolin’s stuff but also saw weaknesses in his attack plan, often reluctant to chase strikers and instead spinning around the area.
This year Gonsolin picked up Kershaw’s brain in the dugout during games, conversations that led to lessons on how to be more efficient, how to steal strikes and go into advantageous counting, how to better manage and get back on workload. by adverse order. .
“Some of that can be taught and learned, and I think Tony is doing a good job of reading it,” Kershaw said.
Gonsolin, for example, might wonder why batter was not swayed by a slide that was perfect for guiding a re-bat.
“Well,” Kerhsaw replied, “it was an automatic build, so you didn’t have to wear it. You could throw a quick ball down the middle, then go to your slide, and it’s 0-and-2, you don’t work from behind. ”
Gonsolin has also found other ways to better attack strikers, such as increasing its use of the curve as an early counting weapon for strikes and as a playing field that could get curves.
“Tony honestly understands that one of his biggest obstacles is trying to be more effective, and he’s doing it, he’s doing it on his own,” Kershaw said. “Maybe he can steal a few pitches here and there, and that will give him an inn here and there, which will put him off.”
Where Gonsolin goes the rest of the season could have important implications for the Dodgers.
To date, it has helped compensate for injuries and underperformance. If this holds up, he could be a more central person in their plans as they push towards the job season.
That’s no guarantee. Gonsolin is already five points from a new career, and has not completed the full value of the games since 2019.
While its base numbers are good, including a prospective ERA of 2.60, according to Baseball Savant, and an independent pitching stat of 3.04, according to Baseball Reference, they still suggest that it may rebound on average as it goes the season onwards.
However, for a pitcher who once seemed to be on the verge of rotation, who started the season that required a long relief to tackle and followed a unique path to even the most aristocratic. out, these first two months are a validation of the talent he and his organization believed he had for a while.
“It’s gone through,” McGuiness said. “And I think he’s come out on the other side in a very good spot.”
Also, when asked if Gonsolin still swings bats from time to time, McGuiness laughed.
“It’s not a small amount,” he said.
Recently, Gonsolin did not need it.