It was former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson who, in response to a question about Evander Holyfield’s fight plan before an upcoming bout, famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin entered the ring Friday night and took an immediate jab to the chin for the second straight start, when his second pitch of the game was driven 400 feet to right-center field for a home run by Miami designated hitter Jorge Soler.
But unlike last Sunday’s game, when Gonsolin responded to a first-pitch homer with six shutout innings, he did not have a plan to combat the Marlins after absorbing that blow.
Miami pounded the 29-year-old right-hander for 10 runs and eight hits — five of them home runs — in 3⅓ innings of an 11-3 victory in Chavez Ravine that left Gonsolin battered and bruised and the Dodgers’ 11-game winning streak in ruins.
“I don’t think he had life to his fastball,” manager Dave Roberts said of Gonsolin. “He missed a lot of pitches, and when he needed swing and miss or soft contact, he didn’t have that with his breaking ball and all of his secondary pitches. … He just wasn’t sharp all around.”
Gonsolin, an All-Star last year, had not given up more than five earned runs or two home runs in any of his 70 starts, but he became the first Dodger to give up five homers in a game since Hall of Famer Don Sutton in a 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 7, 1973.
It all added up to a massive step backward for a pitcher who thought he had turned a corner in a highly disappointing, injury-plagued season with last Sunday’s win over the Colorado Rockies. Instead, Gonsolin fell to 8-5 with a 4.98 ERA and raised more questions about whether he is worthy of a playoff rotation spot, and about his health.
Roberts has made vague references to Gonsolin “not being 100%” for several weeks, but after Friday night’s game, he acknowledged for the first time publicly that Gonsolin has been dealing with an “arm issue” for the past four to six weeks.
Gonsolin, who missed the last five weeks of the 2022 season because of a right forearm strain, said the ailment is in his elbow and that it affects his stuff more than command.
Roberts said the team’s medical staff assured him that Gonsolin would not do any further damage to his arm by pitching, but he hinted that the team will reassess that approach, a decision that will probably mean a trip to the injured list for Gonsolin.
“Tony is going out there and doing what he can, and at times, his stuff is good, the fastball is good,” Roberts said. “But physically, he’s not 100 percent. I think we’re going to circle up with Tony [Saturday] and figure out if a blow, a break, getting away from this, makes sense.”
Would the Dodgers have shut down Gonsolin in early July if their rotation wasn’t so ravaged by injuries at the time?
“No, not necessarily,” Roberts said. “There are very few pitchers who are 100%. If you’re not going to make what you’re dealing with worse, and you can take the ball and have the velocity, the stuff, and you feel you can get major-league hitters out … I think he earned and deserved the right to go out there and make starts.”
The Dodgers responded to Soler’s salvo with a long ball of their own, Mookie Betts tying the score 1-1 with a 420-foot shot to center off Miami ace Sandy Alcantara in the bottom of the first, giving Betts a franchise-record 11 leadoff homers this season and 47 in his career.
Gonsolin retired the side in order in the second inning, but Soler led off the third by pulverizing a 93-mph fastball, sending his 32nd homer of the season 441 feet into the left-center pavilion for a 2-1 Marlins lead.
Josh Bell walked with one out, Jazz Chisolm singled and Jake Burger drove a three-run homer — his 27th of the season — to center for a 5-1 lead. Jesus Sanchez singled with two outs, and Jacob Stallings capped the six-run outburst with a two-run homer to center for a 7-1 lead.
With a split doubleheader scheduled for Saturday, Roberts sent Gonsolin back to the mound for the fourth, hoping his starter could at least eat a few more innings to preserve the bullpen.
The Marlins foiled that plan when Soler led off with a walk, Luis Arráez doubled to right and Chisolm hit a towering drive just inside the right-field foul pole for a three-run homer and a 10-1 lead, prompting Roberts to pull Gonsolin in favor of right-hander Gus Varland.
“I thought the ball was coming out pretty good today,” Gonsolin said. “I thought I executed some good pitches that got hit really hard, but overall, I feel like I just wasn’t executing very well. I fell behind on a lot of counts, I walked a lot of guys … and I put our bullpen in a [crappy] situation.”
Varland went 1⅔ innings for the Dodgers, giving up one run, left-hander Victor González threw two scoreless innings, left-hander Alex Vesia added a scoreless eighth, and shortstop Miguel Rojas made his second pitching appearance of the season, retiring the side in order in the ninth.
With the score so lopsided, Betts, first baseman Freddie Freeman and right fielder Jason Heyward all were pulled by the fifth inning, Heyward leaving the game after aggravating a hip injury on a sliding catch.
Alcantara, the 2022 National League Cy Young Award winner, gave up solo homers to Max Muncy — the 29th of the season for the Dodgers third baseman — in the fourth and James Outman (his 15th) in the fifth, the only other blemishes on a six-inning, three-run, seven-hit, six-strikeout start that improved the right-hander to 6-10 with a 4.11 ERA.