Kimbrel rebounds with save to preserve Gonsolin's 15th 'W'

Dodgers focused on getting pitching locked down for stretch run, postseason

August 18th, 2022

MILWAUKEE – A day after Craig Kimbrel blew the save for the Dodgers, manager Dave Roberts made it clear that the right-hander would be back on the mound Wednesday in a save opportunity. 

Roberts stuck to his word, sending Kimbrel out in the ninth inning to preserve a one-run lead. This time, Kimbrel was able to come through for the Dodgers in a 2-1 win over the Brewers at American Family Field.

It’s the first time in five tries this season that Kimbrel secured the save when coming into the game with the Dodgers holding a one-run lead.

“That’s the beauty of being in the bullpen, you don’t have to sit on it for too long,” Kimbrel said. “It never makes it easy, but it feels good to come out and do my job tonight. Fully expect to do it the next time I’m out there.”

It wasn’t easy for Kimbrel as the Brewers had the tying run in scoring position, but it was a step in the right direction for the veteran closer. He was a bit more efficient with his pitches, landing a first-pitch strike against all five batters he faced.

Though the Dodgers remain committed to Kimbrel as their closer, there was a sense of relief to watch him lock down the last out of a game. Getting Kimbrel back in top form will be one of the Dodgers’ priorities heading into the postseason in about six weeks.

"I thought that was a really big outing for us,” said Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes, who broke a scoreless tie in the sixth with a solo homer. “I think it’s a real big step in him feeling good out there. He’s going to throw big innings for us. Once he’s right, I think he’s going to be real special.”

Another pitcher the Dodgers are happy to see get right is Tony Gonsolin, who had a dominant first half of the season, but struggled through a few rough outings coming out of the break. Those hiccups appear to be behind the All-Star now.

Gonsolin followed up a strong performance in Kansas City last week with an even better one against the Brewers, striking out eight and allowing two hits over seven scoreless innings. It’s the first time in his career that Gonsolin has finished a game with seven or more scoreless frames.

“I think it was great for him, obviously, to be so efficient,” Roberts said. “I think he had another inning in there, too, if he wanted; if we wanted. But all four pitches were working tonight, [he] controlled the entire game. And so for him to go deep, one, continues to build that confidence that he’s had all year long. And number two, we got a chance to stay away from some guys tonight. So very helpful for us.”

Gonsolin did most of his damage with his slider and splitter, a combination that helped him become the breakout star of the first half. The right-hander said he believed the slider was “the best it’s been all year.”

“I felt pretty good,” Gonsolin said. “We were working on the slider in the bullpen this last go-around. I came out today and was really happy with it.”

Gonsolin’s recent success has also been a sigh of relief for the Dodgers. At 123 1/3 frames, the 28-year-old has blown past his career high in innings pitched during a big league season. This is when most pitchers feel the effects of a long season. Gonsolin, on the other hand, believes he’s still getting stronger, a good sign for the Dodgers, given that they’re going to rely on him heavily in the postseason.

“I’m just trying to go out there and do the best I can every time I get the ball,” Gonsolin said. “Overall the body is feeling pretty good. I’ve been doing a good job with [Roberts] and the strength coaches and the pitching guys in just managing the workload and figuring out what I need to do when I go out there every fifth and sixth day, whatever it is.”

Prior to the game, Roberts said the pitchers who are performing best are the ones who will get the opportunities in October. For the Dodgers to succeed, they’ll need Gonsolin to pitch like a frontline starter and Kimbrel to shut things down at the end.

The Dodgers got both of those results on Wednesday.