The injury seemed so innocuous at the time that Tony Gonsolin’s teammates initially laughed at his one misstep.
After a round of field drills for Dodgers pitchers in a back field at Camelback Ranch earlier this month, Gonsolin was jogging slowly away from the mound when his left foot suddenly gave way on the infield turf, twisting his ankle. and making him lose his balance.
Early on, a group of fellow pitchers standing nearby found humor in the sight, criticizing their cat-loving teammate for not landing on his feet.
Within a few minutes, however, the mood turned more serious.
Gonsolin clutched his ankle in obvious pain. He cautiously walked over to the bench to be checked by a coach. He then got into a golf cart and they took him away.
It turned out that the pitcher had suffered a sprained ankle, and it might be a while before he appears in a game again.
Nearly two weeks after the injury, manager Dave Roberts confirmed Friday that Gonsolin won’t be healthy in time for opening day.
“Saying the season will start,” Roberts said, “that’s not going to happen.”
The exact timetable for Gonsolin’s return is unclear. If his recovery doesn’t speed up, which seems unlikely after Roberts warned several times that it will be a “slow” process, the pitcher could be in danger of missing several starts to start the season.
“Long term, I don’t think it’s a problem,” Roberts said. “But that speaks to how we’re going to handle this from the beginning.”
Consider it one of the nine lives burned by the so-called “Catman,” a bizarre, ill-timed, and literal misstep that won’t derail your 2023 season, but is setting your search back for “unfinished business,” as Roberts dubbed it. from last year.
While Gonsolin had one career regular season in 2022 — going 16-1 with a 2.14 ERA to earn his first All-Star selection — he was one of many Dodgers who didn’t perform in their abrupt postseason elimination.
After missing most of September with a forearm injury, Gonsolin floundered in his only outing against the San Diego Padres, getting just four outs in a Game 3 start the Dodgers expected to last four innings.
While Gonsolin allowed just one run, his early exit helped put the team behind the eight ball for the remainder of the game, which ended in a loss, and the series, which ended in a stunning four-game loss one night later.
The frustration persisted into the start of Gonsolin’s offseason, becoming the latest in a string of playoff disappointments for the four-season veteran.
“It sucked,” he said when asked about his end of the year after his first and only Cactus League start this spring on March 3. “I feel like I did it two years in a row in 2021 and 2022.”
Gonsolin turned setbacks into motivation as he crafted his personal goals in 2023.
“Go wall to wall,” Gonsolin declared. “Go from start to finish.”
The beginning, now yes, has been complicated.
While Gonsolin has denied multiple requests from reporters in the past week to discuss his injury, Roberts said the 28-year-old’s discontent has been clear.
“You work all offseason to get to a certain point to get into camp, and then having this hiccup early on, yeah, he’s frustrated,” Roberts said.
When asked where the randomness of Gonsolin’s sprained ankle ranked among the injuries he had seen in his career, Roberts acknowledged that it was “up there.”
“It was something very, obviously, benign,” Roberts said. “For a guy like Tony, to have something like this happen to him, to be expensive to this point, it’s very rare.”
The challenge now for Gonsolin and the Dodgers will be making sure the pitcher stays poised for a strong comeback and eventually finishes through 2023, when he is expected to once again serve as the anchor of the team’s starting rotation.
“Tony talked about finishing the race or finishing the season strong, that’s still up for grabs,” Roberts said. “But I think it’s very important to make sure that we cut this off and that it doesn’t go on any longer.”
The Dodgers’ pitching coaches were trying to strike a different kind of balance before Gonsolin’s injury, keeping their narrow focus on the day-to-day while looking for general improvements to make from last season.
“It’s all about keeping everything in perspective,” assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness said. “I think it’s frustrating for all of us, and frustrating for him, of course, who had the year he had and then had a little setback at the end. So I know he is front of mind. …But we just don’t want you to think too much about the future. If he takes it day by day, we know he’s going to be outstanding for us.”
After pitching more than two scoreless innings in his Cactus League debut earlier this month, Gonsolin felt like he was making big strides.
“I understood better what I was preparing for,” he said. “I just figured out the grind, the day-to-day grind and was able to build my body in a way to handle the load of tickets.”
While that job is on hold, Gonsolin’s most important goals for this season — constantly improving over the course of a full season and pitching to the best of his ability down the stretch — remain intact.
It is an important step in his blossoming career.
He’ll be hoping things go better than the one that left him with ankle pain that will delay the start of his season.
“As long as we stay on the same page with him, he should be good to go,” McGuiness said. “He is an absolute beast. He will be out again soon.”