CINCINNATI — No team loses more high-impact starting pitchers than the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yet no team throws as well. It’s part of living in blue.
“I was at the Sandy Koufax statue ceremony last week, and he talked about how when you put on that uniform, there’s a lot of pitching heritage with the Dodgers,” manager Dave Roberts said here. Tuesday, before a game with the Cincinnati. Reds. “And I think when you have Clayton Kershaw here, the bar is set very high. So the wait when you take the mound for us is higher.
Kershaw, who missed a few weeks with a lower back injury, returned to resume his walk to the Hall of Fame. The arms around him keep changing, but the results remain the same. The Dodgers’ starters led the majors in ERA through Wednesday at 2.62, despite lacking a decorated five-man rotation from 2021.
At various times last season, the Dodgers employed Max Scherzer, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler, David Price and Dustin May. Those pitchers made 77 starts for a team that tied a franchise record with 106 wins. All started from the rotation.
Scherzer signed with the Mets. Bauer was suspended for two years in April for violating baseball’s domestic violence policy. Buehler underwent elbow surgery this month for a sprained flexor tendon and his return is uncertain. The price is an average reliever. May is recovering from Tommy John’s operation.
For the Dodgers, however, this is just an opportunity for others to shine. Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson combined to go 17-0, helping to keep the team atop the National League West in a virtual tie with San Diego. Both starters could be All-Stars for the first time next month.
“I feel like they never erase anything here,” said Anderson, a left-hander who signed with the Dodgers after six years with four teams — and a 4.62 ERA. “Some teams, if you try things, they don’t really like trying new things. While they’re not afraid to try new things here – and they also know how to weed out things that don’t work .
Anderson, who signed a one-year contract for $8 million, altered his best pitch, change. He’s now the slowest of his kind among NL skilled pitchers, at 79.2 miles per hour, according to Fangraphs, helping his regular fastball play.
Gonsolin has made a concerted effort to throw more strikes this season, while using his splitter more than any other NL starter. Teams have largely discouraged pitchers from using this pitch, for fear of injury, since its heyday in the 1980s. But Roberts thinks the splitter should make a comeback – and Gonsolin could give him a showcase if he starts the All -Star Game at home next month.
“That would be pretty cool,” said Gonsolin, a ninth-round Dodgers draft pick in 2016. “For it to be at Dodger Stadium, that would be huge. It would be just awesome to be part of that environment, to have that opportunity if that happens.
Andrew Heaney, who returned from a shoulder injury last weekend and virtually gave up on his substitution, has a .59 ERA with 23 strikeouts and four walks in three starts. Heaney signed for one year and $8.5 million after struggling last season for the Angels and Yankees.
“Throw your best pitches more frequently,” Heaney said. “It makes a lot of sense to me.”
Heaney, like Anderson, had a mediocre record for multiple teams; in eight seasons, his ERA was 4.72. Yency Almonte, a setup man with his fourth organization, found success by emphasizing sinkers at all four seams. Another reliever, Evan Phillips, had a 7.26 ERA for three teams and a 2.43 mark since the Dodgers claimed him off waivers last August.
“We still have to compete; it’s not like we come to the Dodgers and they sprinkle pixie dust on us and all of a sudden we are who we are,” Phillips said. “We are all talented and I think they challenge us to bring out the best in ourselves. And in a room like this, when you’re surrounded by Hall of Famers and All-Stars left and right, it elevates everyone.
Kershaw, 34, finished last season on the injured list but returned for a year and $17 million. He’s been with the Dodgers for 15 seasons, long enough to witness their last losing record (80-82 in 2010) and their return to the kind of pitching dominance that defined Koufax’s heyday in the 1960s.
“The Dodgers do a good job of finding out what you do well and using it – a lot,” Kershaw said. “There are certain organizations that pitch very well. We are one of them. Cleveland is one of them. Tampa Bay is one of them. I think everyone does it a little differently but it seems like the Dodgers find the strength in somebody who maybe can’t see it on paper but if you dig a little bit you see this guy has capacities.
It’s the sixth straight season the Dodgers have the lowest ERA in the NL, at 2.90 through Wednesday. Heaney said the cohesiveness across departments in the team’s extensive coaching and front-office structure made it easier to implement changes.
“There’s an opening to being able to say, ‘Let’s try something different,’ and guys aren’t worried about that,” Heaney said. “There’s a trust, like, ‘OK, they’re not going to bring this to me if they don’t believe in what this might unlock.'”
General manager Brandon Gomes pitched for Tampa Bay under Andrew Friedman, who left to lead the Dodgers’ baseball operations department in 2014. The raw numbers haven’t changed much since he played, Gomes said, but the teams have found other ways to apply them.
The old idea that players will generally follow their established patterns – that they will play on the back of their baseball cards, as the saying goes – no longer applies.
“There are different paths to develop the player, and not just in the minor leagues,” Gomes said. “There’s also major league player development.”
The Dodgers could add more depth in the second half, with May, Danny Duffy, Tommy Kahnle and Blake Treinen possibly returning from various injuries. The Dodgers are spending a combined $6.725 million this season on Duffy and Kahnle, and if neither return, they can afford the gamble. Their bets on Heaney — and, crucially, Anderson — are already paying off.
Such a portfolio sets the Dodgers apart. The team has a payroll of around $260 million, according to Spotrac, just below the Mets for the richest majors.
“Between how they find guys in tough and their ability to spend money – at the end of the day if you spend money you get good players and good players win games” , said Kershaw. “I don’t care how all the other teams think they’re going to do it, that’s how you have a good team, it’s being able to do that. If you’re not going to spend money, you might have a good year or two, but you have to have good players, and good players cost money.
The Dodgers’ big spending, for players like Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Trea Turner and others, matters the most. But their success in developing players in the majors could save their season.