LOS ANGELES — Had the Dodgers dared to roll out this lineup for a Cactus League game at Camelback Ranch they might have been fined by MLB for failing to put enough regulars on the field for the paying customers.
Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger were on the bench, unavailable with injuries. Gavin Lux is sidelined with his own hamstring issue and Will Smith had the night off. Corey Seager remains in some limbo between recovery and rehab with his hand injury. Max Muncy is learning about the wonders of fatherhood and sleep deprivation.
But the games must go on.
Tony Gonsolin spent more time than he cared to in Arizona this year, a shoulder injury delaying the start to his season for two months. Looking more like the 2020 version of himself than he has all of 2021, Gonsolin combined with four relievers on a two-hit shutout as the Dodgers beat the Colorado Rockies, 1-0, Saturday night — with Kenley Jansen getting the final three outs.
“I thought we had to prevent runs and if we did that, we’d have a chance to win the game,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of winning with a lineup featuring five players who didn’t open the season on the big-league roster. “Our guys tried to put together good at-bats. We only put up one run. But tonight the story was run prevention and Tony, Austin and those relievers did it.”
The win came free of the late-night drama that had sent the Dodgers home unhappy the previous three nights. Instead, there was a game-long buildup of tension in anticipation of the closing act as the Dodgers failed to build on a solo home run by Austin Barnes in the second inning, leaving Gonsolin and the Dodgers’ beleaguered bullpen with no margin for error.
Gonsolin made none. He pitched into the sixth inning for only the second time in his eight starts this season. Other than a first-inning double by Charlie Blackmon, the Dodgers right-hander was unruffled. No other Rockie got past first base against Gonsolin who struck out seven in 5 1/3 innings.
“Tony was good,” Barnes said. “Pounded the zone. Heater was good today. I thought he threw enough fastballs to keep them off the off-speed pitches His splitter is kind of a unicorn pitch. When we set it up and use it at the right times, it’s pretty successful. I thought his curveball was pretty important. He threw some good sliders and threw some good heaters.
“They all worked together.”
For the first time since the shoulder injury, Gonsolin’s velocity seemed to return. He averaged 95.07 mph on his fastball in 2020 but came into Saturday’s start averaging just 93.4 mph with averages below 93 mph in his previous two starts.
Against the Rockies, Gonsolin’s fastball average 94.5 mph and his command was much improved after walking four in just 3 1/3 innings against the Giants Monday.
“This last bullpen was really fastball heavy. Really tried to just throw it for strikes and move it around a little bit,” Gonsolin said.
“This last bullpen felt a lot better. Overall mechanically felt better and more comfortable so I was able to get on it a little better.”
With his bullpen toolbox restocked — Joe Kelly, Blake Treinen and Kenley Jansen were all unavailable Friday — Roberts took the 1-0 lead from Gonsolin the sixth and safely handed it to Alex Vesia, Kelly and then Treinen in the eighth.
With cheers of support shouting down the rumbles of discontent, Jansen came in to handle the ninth.
“We’ve had some tough losses these last two or three in a row,” Barnes said, underselling the three blown saves by Jansen in a five-game stretch. “We need Kenley. He’s been good for us. There’s bumps in the road sometimes. But he responds.”
Facing the middle of the Rockies order, Jansen couldn’t get through it completely clean. He got Charlie Blackmon to pop out and Trevor Story to fly out before walking Ryan McMahon to put the tying run on base. But he struck out C.J. Cron, doubling up on his slider to end a nightmare of a week for the Dodgers closer.
“Obviously I got two hiccups to start the second half. Nothing I can do but put it behind me and stay focused,” Jansen said on SportsNet LA, undercounting his blown save total since the All-Star break.
“It’s a long season. Nobody wants to have two days like that (against the Giants). But at the same time, you’ve gotta keep your head straight, keep your mind straight. What’s going to get me over the hump this year is not the physical. It’s how strong I can be mentally.”