One notable name not mentioned was Julio Urías. That’s because the Dodgers plan to insert Urías, nearly four years removed from his hyped debut and after an unusual bullpen stint last season, in their starting rotation in 2020.
“He understands what’s in front of him,” Roberts said. “He’s got to continue to stay healthy, take care of his body.”
Urías’ inclusion in the rotation lessens the chances of Dustin May, the organization’s top pitching prospect, making the team out of camp. Roberts said the Dodgers view May strictly as a starter. They will not toy with using May as a reliever in April.
With Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, David Price and Urías cemented as starters, chances are May begins the season in triple-A Oklahoma City’s starting rotation.
“Right now we’re going to continue to build him up as a starter,” Roberts said. “I just don’t see it making a whole lot of sense as a young player to put him in the ‘pen out of camp.”
May, 22, made his major league debut in August as a starter and made three more starts with the Dodgers, but the right-hander spent most of his time as a reliever to bolster the bullpen for the postseason with a power arm. He appeared in 12 games as a reliever between the regular season and playoffs.
Roberts said it is vital that May develop his changeup as a consistent third pitch to complement his sinker and curveball.
May has been slowed by “side” soreness, keeping him off the mound this spring, but is slated to throw a bullpen session Sunday.
“We understand he’s done some really good things for us,” Roberts said. “And right now things can change as far as health. We’re just encouraging Dustin to control what he can control, and right now, it’s get healthy and get on the mound and develop that pitch count.”
Roberts said Tony Gonsolin, another right-hander who debuted last season, is “in the same bucket,” but envisions a scenario in which the 25-year-old is in the Dodgers’ bullpen on opening day. Roberts cited Gonsolin’s age and extensive experience as a reliever between the minors and majors.
Gonsolin started the Dodgers’ Cactus League opener Saturday against the San Francisco Giants. He tossed one scoreless inning.
“I just want the opportunity to help the team out,” said Gonsolin, who posted a 2.93 ERA in 11 games (six starts) with the Dodgers in 2019. “If they see me long-term as a starter, it might be better off to start in triple-A, but I just want to get my big league time in and help the ballclub win.”
Urías has been through those uncertainties and then some. He seems like the oldest 23-year-old in baseball. He arrived in the majors as a 19-year-old phenom in 2016 and immediately displayed elite potential. But a major shoulder surgery followed the next year. He didn’t appear in the majors again until September 2018.
Last season, the left-hander bounced between the rotation and long-relief appearances every few days as the Dodgers closely monitored his workload to maximize his chances of remaining healthy for October. It was his best statistical season as a major leaguer.
He posted a 2.49 earned-run average in 79 2/3 innings across 29 relief appearances and eight starts. He rediscovered his high-end velocity and robust pitch mix, offering flashes of his high ceiling.
But the on-field success was marred by his arrest in May on suspicion of misdemeanor domestic battery. Major League Baseball immediately placed him on paid administrative leave. He was reinstated after seven days and prosecutors declined to press charges, but was suspended for 20 games under the league’s domestic violence policy in August. Urías returned in September exclusively as a reliever, pitching in 13 games between the regular season and playoffs.
“Last year was pretty difficult on a lot of fronts,” Roberts said. “But also the inconsistency of role was hard for Julio. And we take for granted his buy-in sometimes. But now things will be more regimented as a starter so with that, the way he’s looked physically, to sustain that, I think he’s going to have a really nice year.”
This year, he’ll have the opportunity to establish himself as a starter and fulfill the potential he flashed as a teenager. He reported to spring training 25 pounds lighter than in October after an offseason devoted to training and eating healthy, ready to seize his chance.
Clayton Kershaw was scheduled to throw a live batting practice session Saturday, but it was pushed back to Sunday because of rain. . . . Roberts said outfielder Joc Pederson is dealing with “side” soreness, but could resume hitting Sunday or Monday. . . . Mookie Betts, acquired Feb. 10 from the Boston Red Sox, will make his spring debut Sunday against the Chicago Cubs. He’ll play right field and bat leadoff.