Julio Urías proves he can be a viable option in Dodgers’ loss to A’s

Dodgers reliever Julio Urías pitches to an Oakland Athletics batter. He retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced.
Dodgers reliever Julio Urías retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

This time, the first inning troubles weren’t Julio Urías’ fault.

For the first time this season, someone else started on his day to pitch.

Urías was the scheduled starter for the Dodgers’ 6-4 loss against the Oakland A’s on Wednesday. But hours before the game, the team announced the left-hander would be shifted to the bullpen to throw bulk relief innings in a continued effort to prepare for all postseason potentialities.


“We don’t know how it’s going to play out, as far as the postseason,” Roberts said before the game, describing Wednesday’s pitching change as a way “to give Julio an opportunity to potentially pitch out of the ’pen. To feel it more recently is a good way to prepare.”

After Wednesday, Urías will have recent success to fall back on too.

Dodgers pitcher Dustin May has relied on inducing groundballs, rather than strikeouts, which could be risky in the postseason.

Upon entering in the third inning, the 24-year-old looked sharp from the start — unburdened by his season-long first-inning struggles while producing the type of start-to-finish dominance Roberts has yearned for all year.

He retired 12 of his first 13 batters. He struck out five men over his first four innings. Only in the seventh did he get into trouble, allowing the A’s to score on two hits and a walk. He responded in the eighth, completing his six-inning, one-run outing with a four-pitch frame.

By then, an early 3-0 deficit built against opener Joe Kelly had become a 4-4 tie thanks to home runs from Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Edwin Ríos. Though Ramon Laureano’s go-ahead two-run homer off Blake Treinen in the top of the ninth nullified the comeback, Urías’ display was what mattered most for a Dodgers team still finalizing its pitching plans.

“I can’t recall every outing that he’s had,” Roberts said, “but I thought this one was one of his best, as far as the entire pitch mix. I just really liked it. I thought there was a lot of good to take away from tonight.”

The Dodgers know Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler will pitch Games 1 and 2 in next week’s best-of-three wild-card round, though the order remains undecided. If the series reaches a decisive third game, however, the club’s choices are far more varied.

They could start Urías, who lowered his ERA to 3.27, or opt for Dustin May or Tony Gonsolin. A bullpen game including some mixture of those three is a possibility too.

Only one thing is clear: At least two of Urías, May and Gonsolin will come out of the bullpen. And after Urías’ relief appearance Wednesday, May and Gonsolin could get similar test runs in relief before the end of the regular season Sunday.

“We’ve stretched them out,” Roberts said, “to be able to take on bulk, to take on innings, but to be able to shorten if we need to shorten, to get them back online sooner.”

For Urías, this routine is nothing new. Last season, the left-hander started in only eight of his 37 outings and came out of the bullpen in each of his final eight appearances of the regular season — a precursor to his three relief appearances in the NLDS.

For 30-some Dodgers minor leaguers serving as an insurance policy against injuries, staying positive through monotonous workouts at USC is a challenge.

After returning from a year-long shoulder injury late in the 2018 season, Urías made three regular-season relief appearances in preparation for a World Series run that saw him pitch out of the bullpen seven times.

And after spending the majority of his rookie 2016 season in the Dodgers’ rotation, Urías made one relief appearance in late September and another in the NLDS before starting Game 4 of the NLCS.

Wednesday’s performance confirmed that versatility is still there, cementing Urías as one of the few Dodgers pitchers with both multiple years of playoff experience and the ability to pitch from the bullpen or the rotation.

“As a reliever, we’ve seen where in short bursts, an inning or two, to then come back and pitch a day later, the value of that,” Roberts said, adding postgame, “We view him as a starter … but I just love the way Julio has embraced whatever we ask of him. He’s all in.”

Kelly, Treinen struggle as postseason nears

Starting a game for the first time since 2016, Kelly allowed his first three runs (two earned) of the season in his one and only inning on Wednesday. Just as notable, however, was his continued reliance on the curveball — or, more cynically, a potential reluctance to throw the fastball.

The right-hander used his knuckle-curve 16 times in 22 pitches, continuing a season-long trend that has seen him throw the breaking pitch at a career-high rate of 61%. Conversely, his usage of an upper-90s fastball has dropped to barely 20%, the lowest it has been since he became a full-time reliever in 2016.

“I do think, as we look out, changing the mix or adding some fastballs in there [to] keep those guys honest makes sense,” Roberts said, noting pregame he wanted to give Kelly two more appearances against the Angels this weekend. “[The curveball] is an elite pitch when it’s right, but certainly when a major league hitter knows it’s coming ... the margin gets a little smaller.

“You’ve got to continue to sequence. ... It’s probably something he’s working on. As we close out the season, I think it will be a little bit of a different percentage.”

Treinen, meanwhile, saw his ERA rise to 4.18 after allowing his eighth and ninth earned runs in his last eight outings. After amassing a 1.04 ERA in his first 17⅓ innings this season, the former A’s right-hander now has the highest ERA among Dodgers relievers with more than 12 appearances.

Nonetheless, Roberts said his confidence “hasn’t wavered” in the sinkerball specialist.

“On the surface, if you look at the runs it doesn’t look great and Blake’s a little frustrated, rightfully so,” Roberts said. “But I still think there’s a lot of soft contact in there. We saw the swing-and-miss. … We’re going to keep running him out there and I believe he’s going to continue to put up zeros.”

Three Dodgers takeaways

  1. Justin Turner played defense for the first time since Aug. 28, logging five innings at third base before a planned midgame removal. Turner had served as the designated hitter five times since returning from an injured list stint caused by a left hamstring strain but was a late scratch Tuesday after experiencing tightness in that hamstring before the game.
  2. Max Muncy hit another home run off his former team, sending a towering two-run shot over the right-field wall in the third. After going 13 games without a homer entering the series, the former fifth-round A’s draft pick has long balls in back-to-back games. Cody Bellinger and Edwin Ríos also homered for the Dodgers.
  3. The Cincinnati Reds ended Wednesday as the National League’s No. 8 seed and the team the Dodgers would face in the wild card round if the season ended today. The Reds trail the San Francisco Giants by mere percentage points after both teams won Wednesday. The Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers trail both of them by one game.