With Heaney down, Gonsolin steps up vs. Braves

April 20th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- Before the Dodgers’ 5-1 win over the Braves on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, the team placed left-hander  on the 10-day injured list with left shoulder discomfort and recalled utilityman Zach McKinstry from Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Heaney said he started feeling discomfort in his shoulder on Monday, a day after his latest start. The Dodgers are hopeful that the left-hander won’t be sidelined for an extended period of time, and plan to reassess his shoulder once he’s eligible to come off the injured list. When Heaney tried playing catch on Wednesday, however, according to the lefthander, it “didn’t go good."

The 30-year-old has already had shoulder injuries in 2017 and ‘19 as a member of the Angels. In ‘19, Heaney missed nearly a month. In ‘17, he suffered an injury on Sept. 9 and missed the rest of the regular season.

“We just felt that [an IL stint] to take it out of his hands and give him some rest,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “He’ll miss a start and we’ll see kind of how it goes and don’t expect it to be long term. But right now, it was a pretty easy decision.”

In his last start against the Reds, Heaney had one of his best starts in the Majors. He struck out 11 over six scoreless frames, the third-most in a start in his career. Heaney has yet to allow a run in 2022, striking out 16 over 10 1/3 innings of work. Through two starts, Heaney has been the most pleasant surprise for the Dodgers.

Despite posting a 5.83 ERA in 30 appearances with the Yankees and Angels last season, the Dodgers believed in Heaney enough to sign him to a one-year, $8.5 million deal in November. Since then, Heaney has worked with pitching coach Mark Prior on a new breaking ball. They’ve also tried to clean up Heaney’s delivery.

Through two starts, Heaney ranks in the 95th percentile in whiff percentage. He’s also in the 87th percentile in opponents' chase Rate, which means Heaney is making balls look like strikes through the zone.

All the early returns have been positive for Heaney and the Dodgers, but now Los Angeles will need to patch up the back end of its rotation for an undisclosed period of time. The back end of the rotation was a concern for the Dodgers coming into the season, but Heaney’s stellar performance calmed some of those nerves.

Now, they’ll need others to step up in his absence. That’s exactly what  was able to do on Wednesday against the Braves. The right-hander tossed six scoreless innings, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth until Manny Piña broke it up with a leadoff single. It was Gonsolin’s longest start since Sept. 26, 2020. His season ERA is down to 0.69.

“Tony was really good,” Roberts said. “Very helpful, much needed. All three outings have been good. He was really efficient, inducing three double plays, which is huge. Used his fastball the right way and his breaking stuff was on. He did a heck of a job.”

The slider was particularly working for Gonsolin. In his first two starts, Gonsolin recorded seven swings and misses with the pitch. On Wednesday, he got nine whiffs on the slider.

“Yeah, it felt pretty good today,” Gonsolin said. “Little bit the game plan, little bit of me feeling out the game and realizing what was working really well.

“Yeah, it felt pretty good today.”

The Dodgers have been using Tyler Anderson in long relief in Gonsolin's starts, which has proven to be an effective piggyback situation so far. But with Heaney on the IL, the Dodgers stuck with Gonsolin on Wednesday. Roberts hoped to get five innings out of the right-hander, who delivered six instead.

Anderson, on the other hand, threw a side session during Wednesday’s game and will start on Saturday against the Padres, which was originally Heaney’s start day.

Top prospects Bobby Miller and Ryan Pepiot are expected to make an impact at some point this season, but the two young right-handers might not be ready this early. Right-hander Andre Jackson could also be an option if Heaney is forced to miss more than one start.

But the Dodgers’ best options are on the roster in Gonsolin and Anderson. Both entered the season with some question marks after shaky ‘21 seasons. Things have gone smoothly thus far. The Dodgers will rely on that as they navigate through their first significant injury of the season.

“Tony, not only preventing runs but also being able to take down a big portion of the game,” Roberts said. “Now where we’re at knowing we built him up, you don’t necessarily need that piggyback anymore and [Gonsolin] kind of can be more of a conventional starter, which is great.”