Gavin Stone delivers more quality innings for Dodgers in series win over Rockies

Dodgers pitcher Gavin Stone delivers a pitch against the Rockies.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow have the biggest names and paychecks in the current Dodgers’ rotation, and rightfully so. Yamamoto, signed to a 12-year, $325-million deal, is 6-2 with a 3.32 ERA, and Glasnow, signed to a five-year, $136.5-million deal, is 6-3 with a 3.04 ERA, both in 12 starts.

But an unheralded 25-year-old right-hander whose $742,500 salary is just a shade over the major league minimum has been every bit as good as the team’s more renowned pitching stars, Gavin Stone emerging as a rotation mainstay after failing to establish a footprint in the big leagues in four wobbly stints as a rookie in 2023.

Pitching on regular four days’ rest for only the second time this season, Stone gave up four hits over five scoreless innings with six strikeouts and two walks to lead the Dodgers to a 4-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies in front of a Sunday afternoon crowd of 48,251 at Dodger Stadium.

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Eleven starts into his sophomore season, Stone is 6-2 with a 2.90 ERA.

“You know, it's fun to watch him grow and mature,” manager Dave Roberts said. “His poise, his commanding of the baseball, the way he kind of attacks hitters and acquires strike one … he's just built that trust with everyone that when he takes the mound, you expect to win.”

Stone, a fifth-round pick out of the University of Central Arkansas in 2020, was a little shaky in his first four starts of the season, going 1-1 with a 6.00 ERA, but he has been dominant in seven starts since April 26, going 5-1 with a 1.64 ERA, giving up 33 hits, striking out 31 and walking nine in 44 innings.

Dodgers shortstop Mookie Betts leaps over Colorado's Hunter Goodman after throwing to first base in the first inning Sunday.

He has not given up a run in his last two starts, giving up three hits over seven scoreless innings against the New York Mets last Tuesday and throwing another gem Sunday.

“I see the confidence level in executing pitches,” catcher Austin Barnes said of Stone. “He’s not afraid to get beat in the zone now. He trusts his stuff. I think he’s got a good pitch mix right now.

“His sinker inside to righties is pretty good, his slider has come a long way, and they play off each other well. Then he’s got that funky changeup. He’s got three pitches to get hitters off balance, but he’s throwing the ball hard too. He’s in a really good spot.”

Stone did not allow a Rockies runner to reach second base until the fifth inning, when Jacob Stallings singled and Charlie Blackmon hit a two-out double down the first-base line to put runners on second and third.

Freddie Freeman, right, is congratulated by third base coach Dino Ebel after hitting a solo home run.

But Stone got Ezequiel Tovar to line out to first baseman Freddie Freeman, who was positioned perfectly in the hole, to end the inning and preserve a 3-0 lead.

With a six-pitch mix headed by a 94.4-mph four-seam fastball, 88.5-mph slider, 94.9-mph sinker and 86.8-mph changeup, Stone induced 15 swinging strikes among his 75 pitches, nine of them with the slider. He threw first-pitch strikes to 15 of 20 batters.

“We leaned on the slider a little more today — that was a big pitch — and Barnsey called a great game,” Stone said. “It felt good out of my hand in catch play before the game, and I felt they were a fastball-hitting team.”

Barnes, who backs up starter Will Smith, made an early adjustment when he noticed Rockies hitters hunting first-pitch fastballs.

“They were swinging early, kind of attacking the first pitch, and the second time through, you don’t want them to get free shots at a heater over the plate,” Barnes said. “So we mixed in [the slider] a little later in the game. I just thought they were aggressive.”

Dodgers pitcher Michael Grove delivers during the seventh inning Sunday against the Rockies.

Right-hander Michael Grove replaced Stone to start the sixth and threw two hitless innings, striking out two and walking one, and left-hander Alex Vesia retired the side in order with two strikeouts in the eighth.

Daniel Hudson threw a scoreless ninth, the game ending with third baseman Kiké Hernández teaming with second baseman Miguel Rojas to turn a slick game-ending double play on Kris Bryant’s grounder.

Mookie Betts opened the bottom of the first with a 354-foot fly ball that carried over the short wall in left field for his ninth home run of the season and first in 50 at-bats dating back to May 17.

The 52nd leadoff homer of his career moved Betts to within one of Craig Biggio for fourth place on baseball’s all-time leadoff homer list, which is topped by Rickey Henderson (81), George Springer (57), Alfonso Soriano (54) and Biggio (53).

Two batters later, Freeman pushed the Dodgers' lead to 2-0 when he drove his seventh homer of the season just high enough over the center-field wall to clear the glove of Rockies outfielder Brenton Doyle, who timed his leap perfectly and actually got the tip of his glove on the ball a few feet above the fence.

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Doyle fell on his back on the warning track, and Freeman slowed around second base, unsure if Doyle had made a spectacular catch, before second-base umpire Larry Vanover circled his index finger to indicate home run.

“I did, I did,” Roberts said, when asked if he thought Doyle had robbed Freeman of a homer. “That guy can really defend out there.”

Freeman sparked a third-inning rally off Rockies left-hander Austin Gomber with a leadoff walk and a stolen base. Teoscar Hernández struck out, but Andy Pages walked, and Rojas lined an RBI single to left-center field for a 3-0 lead.

The Dodgers tacked on an insurance run in the eighth, an inning that Jason Heyward and Barnes began with singles. Betts popped out to first baseman Bryant, who made a nice catch while crashing into the screen in foul territory.

Heyward and Barnes alertly tagged up and advanced on the play, allowing Heyward to score on Freeman’s sacrifice fly to center for a 4-0 lead.

“That base-running play by Jason on that pop-up was a really heads-up baseball play,” Roberts said. “That got him to third, which ultimately created that situation for Freddie. That run was big.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.