The story of how Julio Urias came to the Los Angeles Dodgers is well known to any fan by now. Scouted at age 14 by Mike Brito, the same man who discovered Fernando Valenzuela, he was quickly slated as a comparable pitching phenom. The excitement only grew when he notched an impressive rookie season in 2016 at only 19 and 20.
He seemed slated to build on it in 2017, but was sent down to the minors in May after a couple of rough outings. The following month, he tore the anterior capsule in his left shoulder, ending his season and requiring surgery. As you might recall from my “Life, Death, and the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers” piece, I was present for what turned out to be his last start of the entire season on May 20.
Regular Season Recap
After not having thrown a pitch in the majors since May 2017, Urias finally returned to the spotlight in St. Louis on September 15. In the midst of a 17-4 shellacking of the Cardinals, he quietly notched a scoreless inning and a strikeout.
He finally returned to Dodger Stadium eight days later. He added another two innings and four strikeouts in a 14-0 blowout of the Padres. Urias enjoyed one more outing in the 15-0 drubbing of the Giants on September 30, managing another scoreless inning and two punch outs,
In three bullpen appearances, he struck out seven and didn’t allow a single run in four innings of work. It may have been an exceedingly small sample size, but given the duration of his layoff, it was a relief for Dodgers fans to see Urias look like his 2016 self.
How’d He Do in October?
Absolutely stellar…yet hardly expected at all. When speculation ran as to how Dave Roberts would assemble his postseason bullpen, the general consensus was that Urias was an obvious odd man out. Brilliant as he was in late September, it wouldn’t be wise to throw a young pitcher into high stakes situations. After all, he was only used in three lopsided blowouts. To no surprise, he was left off the roster for the NLDS.
When the NLCS roster was unveiled, it looked mostly the same. Except…Scott Alexander had been swapped in favor of the 22-year-old from Sinaloa.
It’s worth noting Urias working out of the bullpen in the playoffs wasn’t without precedent. He was, after all, the winning pitcher of the unforgettable fifth game of the 2016 NLDS in Washington, hurling two scoreless innings. Of course, that game is best remembered for another certain starter’s clutch heroics in relief:
While praising Dave Roberts for roster moves might not be most fans’ inclination in remembering the 2018 postseason, it has to be said: this is one that can’t be praised enough. Granted, Doc’s gamble on “El Culichi” didn’t look like a smart one at first when he served up an ultimately decisive home run to Jesus Aguilar in game one.
Ultimately, Roberts would be vindicated. In game four, Urias rose to his biggest October occasion yet. With the game dragged into the 13th inning and the bullpen depleted, Urias pitched a scoreless inning. He became the pitcher of record when Cody Bellinger laced the walk-off hit in the bottom half, tying the series 2-2.
It was game seven, however, that was truly the highlight for the young phenom. Brought in to face N.L. MVP Christian Yelich in the bottom of the fifth and the speedy Lorenzo Cain on base, he gave up a flyball deep to left center that looked sure to be a game-tying hit. But Chris Taylor had a different plan.
It proved the defining moment of the game, leading the Dodgers to their second consecutive N.L. pennant. As the team celebrated in the clubhouse afterwards, Enrique Hernandez revealed something that made Urias’ heroics even more special: he had pitched in game seven after his grandmother passed away the previous night.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 21, 2018
Unsurprisingly, Urias thus earned a spot on the World Series roster. He performed solidly in three appearances, his finest moment easily being a scoreless 17th inning in the record-setting third game.
What Lies Ahead
Urias is now clear to fulfill his promise as one of the team’s next generation of aces alongside Walker Buehler. Provided he stays healthy.
The only question right now is if he’ll begin the 2019 season in the starting rotation. With the team having brought back Hyun-Jin Ryu, and reportedly looking to add another starter via trade.
Given that he’s forged such a stellar relief track record in high leverage situations, it’d probably be ideal to start him in the bullpen, and then ease him back into the rotation if/when an opening occurs. (Given the injury history of the rest of the rotation, it’s likely more of a when.)
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