Since it was revealed that Julio Urías would need shoulder surgery back in 2017, there have been several questions about his future. When he returned, we wondered what his role would be with the Dodgers going forward. This spring, his immediate future became somewhat clearer as Dave Roberts made a somewhat surprising announcement that Ross Stripling and not Urías would be the next pitcher in the rotation should any starter (who may or may not be Clayton Kershaw) begin the year on the IL.
Roberts also said Ross Stripling is the next man into the rotation if any starter were to begin the season on the DL. Stripling starts today, and would need one extra day of rest between now and 3/28 to pitch Opening Day.— J.P. Hoornstra (@jphoornstra) March 7, 2019
Ideally, Urías would begin the year in the rotation and finally get a chance to show off what he can do in a full season. That’s not entirely realistic because of the injury concerns. Instead, they’ll limit Urías’ playing time to 70 to 100 innings. What this likely means is that he’ll begin the year in the bullpen. Having him begin the year in Triple-A might be appealing, but I’m sure that if the Dodgers are limiting his innings, they’ll want to him to throw most of those innings in the majors.
Obviously, Urías is overqualified to pitch out of the pen. In his limited time last year and this spring has shown that he’s fully capable of starting in a major league rotation. In the Cactus League, Urías has been topping out at 98 mph. Heck, he was a major league starter three years ago when he was 19.
The Dodgers want to be careful with Urías, and rightfully so. He still has the talent to be the next ace of the team even with Walker Buehler on the roster. Rushing him back could exacerbate his shoulder issues and completely derail a career that’s already had its share of road blocks. Including the postseason, Urías only threw 21 2/3 professional innings in 2018.
The Dodgers also don’t need Urías in the rotation. Their roster is already deep enough that they’ll get along just fine without Urías starting 25 games. Even if Los Angeles arguably got a little worse this offseason, no other team in the NL West is projected to be within 10 wins of them. It’s unlikely they’ll have the same kind of bad luck as they did last season, but if they do, they’ll have Urías in a glass case.
Eventually, Urías will transition to the rotation either when there’s another injury or the Dodgers want to move Kenta Maeda to the bullpen to stop him from hitting his games started incentives. This makes sense for the Dodgers because they can utilize Urías in the second half and into the postseason. They’re not going to fall into the same trap the Nationals did when they put a hard cap on Stephen Strasburg’s innings and could use him in the 2012 playoffs.
Roberts said saving Julio Urias’ innings for later in the season is a goal.— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) March 13, 2019
Limiting Urias’ innings early in the year is possibly the only way to keep to the imposed innings limit. Since Strasburg, teams haven’t adhered to their innings restrictions when they’re engaged in a playoff race. Generally, they push them beyond the limit. It’s a wonder why no one thought to save their pitcher for the second half before now.
The Dodgers may be in the favorable position where can be careful with Urías without adversely affecting their playoffs odds, but they’re also in the position that if Urías struggles or reinjures his shoulder, the Dodgers will be to blame regardless if they’re responsible or not. Maybe they will be, but they’ll be second guessed no matter what they do.
At any rate, we won’t see Urías fully utilized this year, but as long as he’s in the majors all season, it should be considered a win.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.