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Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin sheds light on pitching with a torn UCL for the last two months

For the last two months, anyone with a set of eyes knew something wasn’t right with Dodgers starting pitcher Tony Gonsolin.

The 2022 National League All-Star that finished an MLB-best 16-1 with a 2.14 ERA looked like a shell of himself during the dog days of summer.

After starting the season on the injured list with an ankle injury, Gonsolin picked up where he left off at the end of April, and was 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA after a shutout victory over the Chicago White Sox on June 13.

It was during that start that Gonsolin experienced what he thought was “normal soreness” in his right elbow. However, unlike his previous five seasons in the big leagues, the soreness did not subside in the days after his start. Gonsolin and the Dodgers decided to get an MRI on the elbow and “damage” was revealed.

“We got some imaging done in June, so I knew the damage that was in there [elbow] at that time,” said Gonsolin on Tuesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium.

Despite the damage to his elbow, Gonsolin consulted with doctors and team officials and decided to continue to pitch with the injury. At one point, Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts told reporters that Gonsolin had been dealing with an arm injury, but that doctors had told him he couldn’t do any further damage by pitching with it.

At the time the injury was revealed, the Dodgers starting rotation was depleted. Dustin May was out for the season after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) and undergoing a second Tommy John surgery. 2022 Cy Young Award finalist Julio Urias was on the injured list with a hamstring injury. Noah Syndergaard was sidelined with a blister, and three-time Cy Young Award winner and All-Star Clayton Kershaw was out with a shoulder injury.

Things got so dire for the Dodgers that at one point four different rookie pitchers were required to make starts or pitch in bulk, including two that were promoted from Double-A Tulsa. Despite being hurt, any effort Gonsolin could give the Dodgers as not only needed, but invaluable.

“I was pitching out of necessity,” admitted Gonsolin. :I think Kershaw was down at the time, Julio [Urias] was down at the time, Bobby [Miller] and Sheehan got called up from Double-A. I was just pitching out of necessity, and I thought I had the capability to do it. It just got to the point where the stuff wasn’t performing and I had a lot of tough outings and results.”

Gonsolin continued to pitch with the injury, but he was not the same pitcher. After not allowing an earned run in five of his first nine starts, Gonsolin allowed 47 total runs over his next 11. His ERA over that span was 7.54, including allowing 10 earned runs on five home runs in just three innings in his final start on August 18th.

“Ten runs wasn’t a good sign,” said Gonsolin when asked if he knew that start would be his last. “But I didn’t even think about it. I just tried to do the best that I could.”

The next day the Dodgers placed Gonsolin on the injured list and announced he would not pitch again this season. Days later, it was revealed that he would undergo Tommy John surgery on Friday, September 1st.

Asked about the severity of the injury in his elbow at the time of the MRI back in June, Gonsolin said he did not know. All he knows now is that the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his throwing elbow is now completely torn and complete elbow reconstruction surgery is needed.

“It’s torn for sure,” Gonsolin said of his UCL when asked about the grade of the tear. “I don’t know the severity of it originally, that’s all over my head, but I knew that there was damage in there, and was just trying to cope with how I felt. Overall, I knew surgery was the end goal.”

We now know that Gonsolin did something that is a rarity in professional sports, let alone for major league pitchers. For over two months, and 11 consecutive starts, Gonsolin pitched with a torn UCL, a season-ending injury. The Dodgers went 6-5 in those starts, and Gonsolin was able to help the Dodgers keep their head above water long enough for reinforcements to arrive.

When Gonsolin first knew of his elbow injury, the Dodgers were in second place, two games behind the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. By the time he threw his last pitch of 2023 on August 18th, the Dodgers were 11 games ahead of the second-place San Francisco Giants, and 13 games ahead of Arizona.

Needless to say, Gonsolin gutted through the injury and helped the Dodgers ascend the standings and get back into first place. His teammates thanked him and took notice.

“It was impressive what Tony was trying to grind through. We needed it,” said Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw. “We were all kind of hurt at different points. Obviously, his stuff probably took a turn when he got hurt, but he continued to grind for us. It means a lot. It means a lot to the team, and everyone takes notice of that for sure.”

Both Gonsolin and Roberts admitted that it was inevitable that at some point Gonsolin would no longer be able to pitch effectively anymore and he would have to undergo surgery. Nobody wants to see their teammate lost for the season, but currently, the Dodgers feel like they have enough arms to get through the final month of the season and deep into October.

“Tony was an All-Star, he’s been really good for us, I don’t think you take it lightly whenever you lose someone for the year,” said Kershaw. “At the same time you can’t dwell on it too much and you go with the guys you have.”

Gonsolin will go under the knife on Friday performed by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. He will likely not pitch at all next season, making his rehab process likely an 18-month journey to get back to the big leagues.

“Honestly, I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking at it as a fresh start,” said Gonsolin. “I get to start over the from the beginning. This is an opportunity to get the rest of my body in a really good spot, and get my arm to be in the best shape it could possibly be in.”

Gonsolin’s 2023 campaign ends with a record of 8-5 in a team-high 20 starts. He posted a 4.98 ERA in 103 innings pitched with 82 strikeouts and 40 walks. His $3.25 million salary this season will be boosted to $5.4 million next season thanks to some incentives he hit throughout the course of the year. A well-deserved bonus considering everything he put his body through since the middle of June.

Gonsolin becomes the third Dodgers starting pitcher in the last calendar year to undergo Tommy John surgery. In addition to May, Walker Buehler underwent his second elbow reconstructive surgery at the end of August in 2022.

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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