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Dodgers overcome Tony Gonsolin’s short start, only to lose in extra innings again

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LA is 1-11 in extra-inning games

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers have a planned bullpen game on Saturday, and they had an unplanned bullpen game on Friday. The offense roared back from a three-run deficit in the later innings to tie, but couldn’t push home the go-ahead run, instead dropping yet another extra-inning game, this one a 6-5 Diamondbacks win.

Asdrubal Cabrera’s one-out bloop single to left off Jimmy Nelson in the 10th brought home the winner for Arizona in this one. Friday was the Dodgers’ 10th consecutive loss in extra-inning games this season, in which they are 1-11 in extra frames.

The ease with which the Diamondbacks brought home the winning run had to be galling for a Dodgers team that needed only nine pitches to strand their own free runner in the top of the frame.

After just one hit and one walk in the first five innings, the Dodgers had 10 hits over the next four frames to tie the game. They also left runners in scoring position in each of the last four innings in regulation. Los Angeles was 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position.

The comeback effort had a little bit of everything, including an AJ Pollock bat drop on a would-be grand slam that turned into a sacrifice fly, two more extra-base hits by Chris Taylor, and a game-tying single from Albert Pujols in the eighth inning, after which he stole second base.

The 41-year-old Pujols also stole a base with the Angels on April 19, putting him in select company.

After the tie, we even got a Kenley Jansen rollercoaster ride, with the Dodgers closer pitching the eighth inning, ensuring he got into his first game in six days. After a one-out pop-fly double, Jansen walked a batter — his 28th in 40⅓ innings this season — and allowed a 3-0 single to load the bases. But Jansen recovered to strike out both Christian Walker and Carson Kelly to keep the game tied, much to the delight of a loud young fan positioned near a microphone, who kept imploring “Come on Kenley, you got this” among other things.

Dodgers pitchers tied a season high with nine walks on the night, with starter Tony Gonsolin leading the way.

As part of the trade for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, the Dodgers sent Josiah Gray to Washington. Gray was penciled in to start on Saturday. Manager Dave Roberts said before Friday’s game the plan was for a bullpen game to take Gray’s spot.

“With what we have, we’ll make it work,” Roberts said.

It’s a fitting end to the month of July that has seen the Dodgers use an average of 4.28 relief pitchers per game.

The eight pitchers out of the bullpen used on Friday is less than ideal heading into Saturday. But that’s what happens when relievers have to cover 22 outs just to get to extra innings.

Gonsolin recorded only five outs in the series opener at Chase Field, chased after walking four batters in the second inning. Gonsolin walked five of his 11 batters faced, continuing a trend this season. The right-hander has 26 walks in 35⅔ innings this season, after walking only seven in 46⅔ innings last regular season.

His walk rate in 2021 (16.5 percent) is over four times higher than last year (4 percent). Among 366 major league pitchers with at least 30 innings this season, Gonsolin’s walk rate ranks 361st.

“Not good. Just really bad,” Gonsolin said. “I had no command at all. It just can’t happen.”

The fourth walk in the second inning didn’t score a run — the two runs charged to Gonsolin came on a double by second baseman Josh VanMeter — but did load the bases. Phil Bickford escaped the damage with a fly ball, the latest reliever to save Gonsolin’s bacon.

Six times in Gonsolin’s 10 games this season he’s left in the middle of an inning with runners on base. Six different pitchers have relieved him, inheriting 12 total runners. Using the expected run matrix at Baseball Prospectus, given the base-out situations Gonsolin left, you’d expect a little over 3.8 runs to score.

So far, none have scored.

Escaping Gonsolin’s jams

Date Opponent Inning Outs Bases Reliever Inherited runners Expected runs Runs scored
Date Opponent Inning Outs Bases Reliever Inherited runners Expected runs Runs scored
6/9 at Pirates 2 2 123 Gonzalez 3 0.854 0
6/14 Phillies 4 2 12- Price 2 0.460 0
6/20 at D-backs 4 2 1-- Cleavinger 1 0.220 0
7/19 Giants 4 1 12- Sherfy 2 0.932 0
7/24 Rockies 6 1 1-- Vesia 1 0.545 0
7/30 at D-backs 2 2 123 Bickford 3 0.854 0
Totals 12 3.865 0
Source: Baseball Reference & Baseball Prospectus (BP numbers through July 8)

Gonsolin has a 2.78 ERA, but all those walks and bad peripherals have his FIP at 4.45, which feels much close to how he’s actually pitched this season.

The shoulder impingement that cost Gonsolin the first two months of the season could be contributing to his struggles. He’s lost velocity on his four-seam fastball, down from 95.1 mph on average last year to 93.4 mph this year, including 93.3 mph on Friday.

“It has its days where it doesn’t feel great,” Gonsolin said of his shoulder. “But for the most part it feels good.”

He threw 14 of his 25 fastballs for strikes against Arizona, which made it by far his most effective pitch. Of his other 30 pitches, Gonsolin threw 10 strikes.

“With Will [Smith] behind the plate, it’s hard to figure out what fingers to put down if a guy can’t command the baseball,” Roberts said.

Gonsolin has pitched a total of 35⅔ innings in his 10 games, surpassing four innings in an outing only twice. The Dodgers relied on Gonsolin when they had to fill innings the last two months. But with Max Scherzer expected to make his Dodgers debut Wednesday against the Astros, and Clayton Kershaw likely returning next Saturday against the Angels, the Dodgers don’t necessarily need Gonsolin to fill innings at the moment.

What they need is for Gonsolin to get right, whether that means finding his control, getting his shoulder healthy, or both, because things aren’t working at the moment.

Friday night particulars

Home run: Chris Taylor (17)

WP — Matt Peacock (4-6): 1 IP, zeroes

LP — Jimmy Nelson (1-2): ⅓ IP, 1 hit, 1 unearned run

Up next

Saturday evening (5:10 p.m. PT, SportsNet LA) is the aforementioned bullpen game for the Dodgers, with the nominal starter still to be determined. Merrill Kelly starts for Arizona.

Roberts said the team will likely add a couple pitchers to provide coverage over the weekend. “We have an off day on Monday, but to get there, we’re going to have to play two ballgames,” Roberts said. “We’re going to have to piece it together.”

Corey Seager, who had two hits in his first game back after missing nearly 11 weeks with a broken hand, won’t start on Saturday, but will be back in the lineup on Sunday.