Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced Tuesday afternoon that 19-year-old phenom, Julio Urias would get [at least] two more starts before reevaluating his future as a starter in the Dodgers rotation. Urias followed up that announcement with another encouraging start for the young left-hander, as he pitched 5 innings with six strike-outs, while only allowing two earned runs in another no decision against the first place Washington Nationals.
Although Urias has yet to pick up his first big league win, Urias’ recent starts have shown great promise for the highly touted prospect as he’s posted a 2.36 era with a 7:1 strike-out to walk ratio his last four starts. With his last outing, Urias has bumped up his K/9 ratio up to 11.67 for the season.
Although the report on Urias is far from complete, one flaw we see with Urias early on is that he’s still not pitching deep into games. Through six starts in his young major league career, Urias has failed to pitch a into the 6th inning in each of those starts. The pitch count and inability to pitch quality starts leads me to believe that the second and third time around the lineup teams are catching on to his pitches or scouting report.
The Dodgers’ have kept no secret about wanting to monitor Urias’ innings and pitch count this season. This year’s early call up certainly has Urias’ innings piling up fast and put Friedman in a tough spot. Wednesday’s start puts Urias’ major and minor league innings at a combined total of 68 innings, leaving a longer innings leash to be desired by most Dodgers fans.
Considering Urias’ career high innings total came two years ago in the 2014 season when he pitched 87 2/3’s at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga; the days (let alone innings) seem numbered for Uriasmania, as I don’t expect he’ll eclipse the 100 inning mark.
But with Urias’ lack of pitching deep into games, what’s the big deal some fans might say? Urias is currently averaging just under 5 innings per start. With that math and the given innings limit I set (although the Dodgers are reluctant to give out a number), we could be looking at six more starts from the young left hander before shutting him down. Six starts that the Dodgers are scrambling to fill.
Now while it would be nice to see Urias starting games and dominating left handers (vLHB .188); should Friedman really burn out Urias as we approach the mid-way point of the season? That doesn’t sound like the most efficient road to take. Instead of shutting him down and delaying the Dodgers’ rotational woes until the later part of the season, a move to the bullpen is just what Urias needs. Fans think different.
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) June 23, 2016
As mentioned earlier, Urias has dominated left handers his first six starts, a weapon that can really be utilized by the bullpen. Currently the Dodgers have two lefty relievers, Adam Liberatore (.75 era) and J.P. Howell (5.06 era). Howell has struggled this season against left handers as lefties are hitting .333 with a slugging percentage of .452.
Now while Liberatore has done a fantastic job in his 32 appearances, it sure wouldn’t hurt to throw some help Liberatore’s way with moving Urias to the bullpen and using him as a long relief or lefty specialist.
It will be interesting to see the road Friedman takes with Urias given the recent success of the bullpen and the desperate need of a rotation fill. If the Dodgers’ roster and recent transactions are any indication, Urias may be in the rotation longer than had hoped.
With already eight pitchers in the bullpen and after sending down Mike Bolsinger earlier this week, the seemingly only spot for Urias may be in the starting rotation. Friedman has said before that he can see Urias having a role out of the Dodgers’ bullpen.
Moving Urias into a role where he has proven to be successful won’t “pigeonhole” him in this case, instead it will allow him to stretch out and feel the duration of a MLB season, pitching into mid September. Urias is the undisputed future for the Dodgers’ pitching staff, there’s no doubt about it. But does that necessarily have to transition this season, as a 19 year-old? — Not quite. His desire to learn and ability to make adjustments complement his filthy pitches, but he’s too raw to piece that all together at such an unfathomable age; hence his inability to throw into the 6th inning.
So it’s fair to say we, Dodgers Nation, held Urias to impractical expectations, expecting a Fernando or Kershaw on impact. It’s no time to panic over our highly possessed trade asset; after all let’s not forget the beast himself.
Clayton Kershaw got off to a rocky start his first season in the big leagues holding a .500 (5-5) record with a 4.26 era, not to mention an unthinkable .320 BABIP.
I think he turned out okay.
But unlike, Kershaw, Urias’ possesses the one thing no one can ever bring back, youth and promise. So now, we trust in the Friedman and Roberts to build the kid to allow him to learn from his rookie season and discover first hand what a playoff race is all about. That’s not to say shut him down once eclipsing the 100-inning mark, but instead enhance the experience. It worked out for Wainwright (‘06) and Wacha (‘13) and they won two championships.
Considering all the Dodgers’ starting rotation woes, it’s reasonable to conclude that Urias should hold down a spot in the rotation until reinforcements come. But with opening day’s fifth starter, Ross Stripling eyeing a comeback soon as well as the likes of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy eyeing a return in early, mid July. Reinforcements are certainly on the way for Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers’ starters.
All in all we’ve seen a 19-year-old overcome facing the best offense in baseball (Cubs) and the defending NL Champs (Mets) and rebound by providing solid starts against the first place Giants and Nationals.
Regardless of what Friedman elects to do with Urias’ young, golden arm, I can only hope Friedman doesn’t elect to shut down Urias once surpassing the 100-inning mark like they did with Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg back in 2013. Urias has the talent to contribute at a this level. Let’s just give him some experience by using him in a lower-leverage relief situation to give him a good feel for hitters at this level.