The dilemma of Julio Urias pits his talent against his body. The precociousness of his ability surpasses the readiness of his left arm to handle the burden of his gift. The Dodgers know Urias should pitch every fifth day in the majors. Yet they worry the assignment might break him.
In the coming years, Dodgers officials say, these fears will fade. No longer will the organization fret about pitch counts and innings limits. For now, he is only 20. His employers view him as precious. So he exists in an awkward stasis, bumping against team-imposed ceilings, capable on any evening of flirting with history.
When does a gift become a curse?
It felt that way in the seventh inning of Tuesday's chaotic 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh. Before Ross Stripling showed off his wheels and Austin Barnes wore the hero's cape, manager Dave Roberts confronted the difficulty of managing a precocious asset such as Urias.
Since his professional debut in 2013, Urias had never taken a start into the seventh. Then he skipped across the foul line, back onto the diamond, despite his own faulty command and a precarious two-run lead.
At that moment, having logged six scoreless innings and thrown 83 pitches, it appeared the Dodgers were stuck in the thrall of the bid for a no-hitter. Why else would Urias return to face the middle of the Pirates batting order when his team was carrying a nine-man bullpen? In the aftermath, Roberts insisted that he would have stuck with Urias in that situation, even if he had already allowed a hit.
"He was throwing the ball well," Roberts said. "I felt that we could have gotten him to 100 pitches, somewhere around there. I really thought he was throwing the baseball well."
The results, indeed, looked sparkling. The process did not. Urias threw first-pitch strikes to only 13 of the 22 batters he faced. He could not control either his changeup or his curveball. "He really had no secondary pitches," catcher Yasmani Grandal said.
The performance underscored another curious aspect of Urias' 2017 season. His ability to make pitches has offset any troubles with efficiency. But it is his inefficiency that made the consummation of a no-hitter look so unlikely on Tuesday.
Roberts did not want Urias to throw more than 110 pitches. Urias did not force Roberts to intervene, as the manager did in 2016 with Rich Hill and Stripling. Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen smashed a leadoff double in the seventh, and Urias departed after 6 1/3 innings and 95 pitches.
After the game, Roberts joked that he did not want to remove Urias from the game on Mexican Heritage Night. It is worthwhile to remember that Stripling was less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery when Roberts removed him after 7 1/3 hitless innings in San Francisco. And Hill was dealing with blisters when Roberts replaced him after seven perfect innings in Miami.
Urias is healthy. And his ability is immense. Tuesday represented just another battle in the war between his talent and his readiness.
"That was a tough one for me," Roberts said. "I was thinking through it. But he's going to get his chance for some other no-hitters."