Gonsolin good to go, but who follows in G6?

October 27th, 2020

Twenty-seven outs. If the Dodgers can score some runs, that’s what separates them from winning the World Series for the first time since 1988.

An off-day on Monday gave manager Dave Roberts, pitching coach Mark Prior and the rest of Los Angeles’ brass time to set a pitching plan for Game 6 on Tuesday night, when the Dodgers will again play as the home team. What’s known is that will make the start in a more traditional sense than his four-out outing in Game 2 on Wednesday, and with much more notice to prepare. What’s unknown is precisely how L.A. will navigate the game after Gonsolin departs -- particularly who would get the final three outs of a close contest, should it come to that.

“Just the mindset is, we’re going to do everything we can to win Game 6 knowing we have Walker [Buehler] starting Game 7,” Roberts said. “Outside of Walker, Julio [Urías] and obviously Clayton [Kershaw], everyone else is in play.”

Urías started Game 4 on Saturday and Kershaw won Game 5 on Sunday, so they are not available until a potential Game 7 on Wednesday in relief. Buehler could have been an option to start Game 6 on short rest, but the Dodgers opted against that. He’s off-limits, Roberts said.

“There’s already guaranteed, at worst, a Game 7,” Roberts said. “So it just doesn’t make sense for Walker. He hasn’t done it. There’s a blister component we’ve dealt with that brings it into play. We thought it through.”

If the Rays can force a Game 7, Buehler would be on regular rest in a winner-take-all game. Game 6 is Gonsolin’s at the start. Roberts said he’s hoping for five or six innings from the righty.

With the rest of the game to fill, here’s how some of the other key Dodgers pitchers will be positioned following Monday’s off-day:

Treinen pitched three straight days in Games 3-5 from Friday-Sunday, throwing 42 pitches in all, including 12 in an efficient ninth-inning save in Game 5. With a 4-2 lead going into that ninth, Roberts had a choice between Treinen and Kenley Jansen, both of whom had pitched two straight days. Roberts said he chose Treinen because he had recent experience pitching on three consecutive nights.

Jansen threw 36 pitches in consecutive outings in Games 3 and 4, including grinding for 21 pitches in the bottom of the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ heartbreaking Game 4 loss.

After a perfect eighth inning in Game 1 on Tuesday, Báez surrendered a pair of home runs in a miserable 26-pitch outing in Game 4. Roberts took part of the blame, saying he had told Báez that his day was done, only to change his mind and send the right-hander back out for a second inning after the Dodgers scored. Báez’s strength is that he neutralizes left-handed hitters (.273 OPS during the regular season) with his changeup, but he shook off the change and threw a fastball that Brandon Lowe slugged for a three-run homer. The next inning, Kevin Kiermaier homered off a Báez changeup. Add them to a long list of heartbreaking homers off Báez in the postseason.

Graterol has thrown only 14 pitches in a pair of outings in the World Series, including a seven-pitch eighth inning in Game 3. In Game 4, Graterol got a huge out to end the eighth and preserve the Dodgers’ one-run lead into the ninth. Los Angeles prefers him against right-handed hitters.

Kelly was limited to a pair of lower-leverage outings in Games 1 and 2. He finished an 8-3 win in Game 1 with a clean ninth, then pitched the sixth inning of Game 2 and saw a 5-2 deficit grow to 6-2 after successive hits for Ji-Man Choi and Manuel Margot to open the inning. In Kelly’s favor, he is fresh and has experience pitching in potential clinchers -- though not all of it is good. This year, he’s been erratic.

Kolarek has made only one appearance since Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Oct. 14, a two-out, nine-pitch appearance in World Series Game 4.

A rookie, González found himself in a high-leverage role in Game 5 and delivered two enormous outs, including retiring Rays star Randy Arozarena during a 12-pitch outing. González also pitched in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series.

McGee has pitched only four times in the postseason, including just once in the World Series in Game 2.

The Dodgers’ long man has pitched three times in the playoffs, including once in the World Series, an effective two-inning, 26-pitch outing in Game 2. He could have been an option to start Game 6 had L.A. chosen someone other than Gonsolin.

Like Kelly, Floro delivered lower-leverage work in Games 1 and 2. He was third on the team behind Jansen and Treinen with 25 appearances during the regular season.

May threw 25 pitches for four outs in a shaky showing in Game 2, then threw 30 pitches for five outs in Game 5 in relief of Kershaw and topped out at 101.5 mph, his hardest pitch of the postseason. Roberts said after Game 2 that he retained high confidence in the rookie, and May delivered, making him an interesting option for big outs in Game 6 if needed.

“I bounce back pretty quick,” May said. “I should be ready.”

“He’ll be available,” Roberts said.

The factors that will drive Roberts’ game management: First is the score, obviously. Second, how Gonsolin performs having had five days to mentally prepare for this assignment, compared to about a day’s notice before he started Game 2. Third, how much confidence do Roberts and the Dodgers have in Jansen?

Jansen, after the nightmare that was the end of Game 4, noted that he only allowed two soft singles, one on Kiermaier’s shattered bat and another on Brett Phillips’ bloop that ended the game thanks to two Dodgers errors. Jansen insisted his confidence was not shaken, and neither was the team’s.

“Come Game 6,” Roberts said, “Kenley will be ready to pitch high leverage."

Of course, getting to high-leverage situations depends in part on Gonsolin, the 26-year-old NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate who was sensational during the regular season (2.31 ERA in 46 2/3 innings), but has not matched that effectiveness during a disjointed postseason.

When Kershaw was scratched prior to Game 2 of the NLCS and Gonsolin started in his place, it was Gonsolin’s first work in 17 days. He allowed five runs on three hits and three walks in 4 1/3 innings. Then he appeared in relief for two innings of NLCS Game 7 and allowed two runs on two hits and three walks. In Game 2 of the World Series, when Gonsolin had no idea how long he’d be allowed to pitch, he surrendered a home run to Lowe, the second batter of the game.

Gonsolin said he was told immediately after Game 2 that he would start Game 6, if the Fall Classic got that far. The Dodgers hope that makes a difference.

“It is the most rested, the most routine he’s had, and I think it will help him,” Roberts said. “To his credit, you haven’t heard one excuse. He’s prepared every time we’ve asked him to take the ball. This as far as regimen, the best routine he’s had leading up to a game.”

Gonsolin sure did not sound like a fan of the concept of an opener, however, referring several times on Monday to “the opener thing.” He insisted he did not mean anything by it.

Twenty-seven outs to go. Gonsolin said he’s trying not to think about that.

“I'm trying not to put more pressure on myself than there already is,” he said. “You know, I try to go out there and throw the ball to the best of my ability, and nothing changes tomorrow.”