After his best start of the season yesterday, in which he struck out a career-high nine batters, Julio Urias is now heading to the Dodgers’ bullpen. Those seem like contradictory ideas, for such a brilliant effort would seem to guarantee more time in the starting rotation. However, given the changing circumstances afoot right now, it is the ideal move in every regard.
Julio Urías, 94mph Fastball (foul) and 83mph Changeup (swinging K), Overlay. pic.twitter.com/XBuDmvgJKV
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 19, 2019
To start, there just isn’t room for Julio in the rotation with the veteran starters healthy. Clayton Kershaw finally returned with a strong start against the Reds, Rich Hill is closing in on his first start, and Hyun-Jin Ryu comes back today. That’s three lefties, with righties Walker Buehler and one of Kenta Maeda or Ross Stripling to balance things out. Honestly, that’s the best-case scenario, especially since a healthy Kershaw/Buehler/Hill/Ryu rotation carried the team to an improbable pennant last year and is altogether more experienced.
Regardless of his quality as a starter, Urias needs to be in the bullpen right now for one crucial reason: Tony Cingrani’s injury. With Cingrani’s shoulder strain from last season still causing him trouble, the Dodgers have been left with just Caleb Ferguson and Scott Alexander as their LHP weapons in the later innings. Ferguson is lights-out, and often overlooked. Alexander has been pristine, living up to the potential expected of him when he was acquired last January. Urias and his heat makes for one more shutdown lefty option.
Not only will the team now have three shutdown lefties, but they have a balance between those three. Alexander can now be the LOOGY type he’s best suited for, while Ferguson and Urias can pitch multiple innings due to their conditioning as starters.
Given the youngster’s return from a recent injury isn’t too far in the rearview mirror, being a reliever allows the team to limit his innings in an optimal manner. It also allows him to continue the role that aided his recovery from that injury. When Dave Roberts gambled by using him in the NLCS last October, despite only three appearances in the regular season, it worked out two fold. Not only did it help win that series, but it gave Urias a confidence boost going into this year. In an unquestionably championship-or-bust year, it’d be all the more reassuring to see him in relief in October once again.
Lastly, Urias being bumped to the bullpen improves it exponentially. To be fair, the relief corps has been doing much better recently after a rough start. Even the much-derided Joe Kelly and Pedro Baez are in a groove right now. But that could change at any moment, and while I do think Friedman would be wise atoning for his past bullpen sins this trade season, improving it internally is preferable and moving Urias there does just that.
Urias’ time as a starter will not be delayed for much longer. He is still very young, with many years ahead. Also, this is the last year of Rich Hill’s contract, and lest he find a Bartolo Colon-esque second wind it’s likely he’ll retire. Barring a slew of injuries to the rotation this season (which, to say the least, is not ideal), El Culichi will be back to the rotation next year for sure.
Emotionally, we all want Julio to be pitching every fifth day and fulfilling his destiny as the next Fernando. But for now, using him out of the bullpen is not only the logical route, but the best-case one for the bigger picture in 2019.
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