The injury looked so unremarkable at this point that Tony Gonsolin’s teammates initially laughed at his misstep.
After pitching sessions for Dodgers pitchers in the backfield at Camelback Ranch earlier this month, Gonsolin was slowly trotting away from the mound when his left foot suddenly left the field on the grass, twisting his ankle and causing him to lose his balance.
At first, a group of colleagues standing nearby found humor in not landing their feline-loving teammate on their feet.
After a few minutes, however, the mood turned more serious.
Gonsolin grabbed his ankle with obvious pain. He carefully went to the booth to be checked by a trainer. They then hopped in a golf cart and drove off.
Pizzeria suffered a sprained ankle, and it may be a while before he appears in a game again.
Nearly two weeks removed from the injury, head coach Dave Roberts confirmed Friday that Gonsolin will not be healthy for opening day.
“To say he’s going to start the season,” Roberts said, “isn’t going to happen.”
The exact timeframe for Gonsolin’s return is unclear. If his recovery doesn’t speed up — which seems unlikely after Roberts warned multiple 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 going to be a problem,” Roberts said. “But that speaks to how we’re going to handle this thing on the front end.”
Consider one of the nine lives burned for the so-called “Catman” — a weird, literal, bad-time misstep that won’t derail the 2023 season, but is delaying “unfinished business,” as Roberts put it, from last year.
Although Gonsolin had a stellar 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 did not play in the brutal postseason.
After missing most of September with a forearm injury, Gonsolin failed in his only start against the San Diego Padres, getting just four outs in a Game 3 the Dodgers expected to go four innings.
While Gonsolin gave up just one run, his early exit helped put the team behind the eight ball in that game, which ended in a loss and ended the night with a surprising four-game losing streak.
The frustration continued early in Gonsolin’s offseason, becoming the latest in a pattern of playoff disappointment for the four-year veteran.
“It’s been amazing,” he said when asked about the end of his first and only year since the Cactus League begins March 3 this spring. “I feel like I did well in 2021 and 22.”
Gonsolin turned setbacks into motivation as he worked on his personal goals in 2023.
“Go wall to wall,” declared Gonsolin. “Go from beginning to end.”
The beginning, now, has been complicated.
While Gonsolin declined multiple requests from reporters last week to discuss his injury, Roberts said the 28-year-old’s uneasiness is clear.
“You work all season to get to a certain point going into camp, and then to have this setback early on, yeah, it’s frustrating,” Roberts said.
As for where the randomness of Gonsolin’s ankle sprain ranked among the injuries he’s seen in his career, Roberts admitted it was “right up there.”
“It was something very obviously good,” Roberts said. “A guy like Tony, for something like that to happen, to be expensive to this point, it’s very strange.”
The challenge now for Gonsolin and the Dodgers will be to make sure the pitcher is primed for a strong comeback and eventually finish through 2023, once again serving 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 really important to cut this off and make sure we don’t.”
The Dodgers’ coaching staff was trying to strike a different balance before Gonsolin’s injury, keeping his focus on the day-to-day as they look for improvements from last season.
“It’s all about keeping perspective,” assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness said. “I think it’s disappointing for all of us, and disappointing for him of course, that he had the year he had, and then he had a little bit of a setback at the end. So I know it’s on my mind. … But we don’t want you to think too much about the future. If he takes it day by day, we know it will be great for us.”
After throwing two more scoreless innings in his Cactus League debut earlier this month, Gonsolin felt like he was making strides like that.
“I had a better understanding of what I was preparing for,” he said. “Routine, figuring out a daily routine and being able to build my body to deal with the incoming load.”
Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin warms up before the first inning of a spring training game against the Angels March 3 in Tempe, Ariz.
(Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)
While that work is on hold, Gonsolin’s biggest goals for this season – steadily improving throughout the campaign, and giving his best when it matters – remain in place.
It’s an important step in his upward career.
He will be hoping that the injured ankle, which will delay the start of the season, will be milder than the one that left him.
“As long as we stay on the same page with him, it should go well,” McGuiness said. “He’s an absolute beast. He’ll be back there soon.”