Commentary: Julio Urías set to start NLCS Game 4 for Dodgers, ready or not
This postseason has made a mockery of traditional starting pitching, so to say the Dodgers have their rotation lined up the way they want might be wishful thinking.
The Dodgers have gotten a total of 27 outs from their starting pitchers in the first three games of the National League Championship Series, primarily not by design.
But the Dodgers, trailing two games to one in the best-of-seven series, have Max Scherzer lined up for Game 6 and Walker Buehler for Game 7.
That assumes the Dodgers get there.
They used nine pitchers in winning Game 3 on Tuesday. All nine of the Dodgers’ relievers either got into the game or warmed up in the bullpen. At this point, the last thing the Dodgers want is to play Thursday’s Game 5 — their scheduled bullpen game — as an elimination game with an exhausted bullpen.
That puts Julio Urías into the October spotlight once again. After entering for his last appearance in the eighth inning of Game 2, and for his previous appearance in the third inning, the Dodgers will ask baseball’s only 20-game winner to start a game on Wednesday. They would really, really, really like him to pitch deep into the game.
Scherzer made his last start on two days’ rest, after a relief appearance. It did not go well.
Urías starts Wednesday on two days’ rest, after a relief appearance.
Atlanta’s Luke Jackson, who gave up a game-turning home run to Cody Bellinger, doesn’t consider the loss to be a ‘dagger’ to the Braves’ World Series hopes.
He told the Dodgers he is good to go. The Dodgers could have given him the extra day of rest, but manager Dave Roberts said there is “no way of knowing” the possible benefit. Urías closed out the 2020 World Series on two days’ rest, and that was after an 80-pitch start.
In October, at least, the Dodgers have turned Urías into a pitching version of Kiké Hernández or Chris Taylor. Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw have made occasional postseason relief appearances, but Urías is a postseason utility pitcher: starter, bulk-inning reliever, setup man, closer.
The Dodgers carefully adhered to pitch limits and inning limits with Urías, until this season. They told him that he was a starting pitcher, full stop, no limits. He pitched 186 innings this season, more than half again as much as his previous professional high.
With a top three of Buehler, Scherzer and Kershaw, the Dodgers were prepared to deploy Urías as a utility pitcher this October. Then Kershaw got hurt again, and the Dodgers still deployed Urías as a utility pitcher.
The Dodgers first called him up at 19. He is 25 now. He takes pride in blossoming into the starting pitcher he and the team envisioned he could be.
“Absolutely,” Roberts said. “But he also takes pride in helping us win. He wants to — and he also takes pride in, ‘We called his number in that spot and I want to be the guy; I’m the best option.’ It’s kind of how you look at it.”
Scott Boras, the agent for Urías, is not shy about letting a team know when he is upset about how a team is treating a star client.
“If you’re asking me,” Boras said Tuesday, “I’m not upset with anything that lowers the amount of innings that Julio pitches.
“I looked at it in a protective sense. I’m not looking at it to say, ‘Oh, he’s not the front-line guy.’”
Urias threw 55 innings in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, then more than three times as many innings this season. His career innings total, postseason included: 473.
Kershaw and Fernando Valenzuela also delivered 20-win seasons for the Dodgers by age 25. At that age, Kershaw had thrown 959 innings, Valenzuela 1,348.
The concept of inning limits in October does not fly, certainly not in the clubhouse.
In 2012, in his first full season after Tommy John surgery, the Washington Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg in September, so there was no issue in October. Strasburg has made the All-Star team three times, and he signed a $245-million contract.
In 2015, in his first full season after Tommy John surgery, the New York Mets did not shut down Matt Harvey for the postseason. The Mets made their first World Series appearance in 15 years, but Harvey has not been a league-average pitcher in any season since then.
“In New York, they didn’t stop the player,” said Boras, who represents Strasburg and Harvey.
“The player will never say no. You’re in a locker room. You’re trying to win. You want to be a good teammate. The pressure of that is far too great.”
Scherzer also is a Boras client. On Sunday, two days after a relief appearance, Scherzer started and said his arm felt “dead.”
The Dodgers’ season was on the verge of annihilation until Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts delivered one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history.
Said Boras: “I don’t think anybody in my position, who represents a starting pitcher, wants them pitching in relief. It’s a routine interruption, and routine interruptions scare you. Now we’ve seen in postseasons that teams do this. The players are always wanting to do it, because they want to win.”
“I never fault a player for wanting to win. I know it enhances the risk.”
There are no guarantees. The World Series championship flag that flies at Dodger Stadium is testament to the Dodgers’ success at hitting, pitching and risk management. Postseason included, Urías is at 196 innings this season. Getting him to 201 on Wednesday, with a win by his name, would be a big win for the agent, the pitcher and the team.
Not necessarily in that order.
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