Column: Dodgers are in big trouble if Julio Urías can’t deliver quality innings

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, left, pulls starting pitcher Julio Urías from the game.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, left, pulls starting pitcher Julio Urías from the game during the third inning of the Dodgers’ loss to the Colorado Rockies on Sunday. Urías gave up six hits and three earned runs.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

He shook his head. He rolled his shoulders. He slapped his glove. He took a baseball from an umpire and promptly tossed it on the ground.

By the time Julio Urías’ season debut ended Sunday afternoon, with hits flying and grocery bags floating and questions swirling through the cold Coors Field wind, the Dodgers magical left-hander couldn’t get off the field fast enough.

When Dave Roberts came to get the ball in the third inning, Urías popped off the mound, met him on the grass, handed it over, took off his cap, lowered his head, and trudged purposely into the shadows of the dugout.


This was not what the Dodgers expected. This is not what the Dodgers needed.

In his first opportunity to fill the role as the No. 2 starter in a thin rotation teetering on mediocrity, Urías did not play his part, burying them with a six-run deficit in an eventual 9-4 defeat to a Colorado Rockies team this columnist had described as “absolutely awful.”

A short start by Julio Urías coupled with costly defensive mistakes send the Dodgers to a 9-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies, dropping them to 1-2 on season.

What a difference a weekend makes. On Friday afternoon the Dodgers opened the season with brilliant arms and fortuitous bats, but, by Sunday, they had spent two days dropping balls and swinging wildly and pitching recklessly and running mindlessly.

No surprise, but they lost a series to the Rockies at Coors Field for the first time in four years.

Also no surprise, Roberts was not thrilled.

“We didn’t play good baseball,” he said.

The offense, which unbelievably accounted for only four extra-base hits in three games in this mile-high mecca, should eventually be fine. The defense, which gave the Rockies seemingly dozens of extra chances, won’t be that bad.

Honestly, the most fretful part of the weekend centered around the 25-year-old kid facing shiny new pressure with a strangely fading fastball.

It is safe to begin worrying about Julio Urías.

“It was a strange day from the start,” said Urías through an interpreter. “With the wind, with everything that was going on, it just felt really strange.”

Strange in that, this confident kid from last season looked lost.

Seemingly everything he threw, the Rockies touched or tipped or simply thwacked. He didn’t miss a lot of bats. He hit barrels, he hit handles, he even hit an elbow.

“He just didn’t seem in sync from pitch No. 1,” said Roberts.

Urías was still searching when Roberts came for him after pitch No. 57. In only two full innings, plus five batters in the third, Urías gave up six runs, six hits, two walks and one home run.

Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urías delivers during the first inning Sunday.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

What’s more ominous is what he didn’t do. For the first time as starting pitcher since the middle of 2019, he didn’t strike anybody out.

Here’s something else he was missing, and feel free to start really stressing when you read this. He was missing his velocity. Spring fears of his decreased power were heightened when his average velocity was tracked at 91.4 mph, down nearly three ticks from last year’s 94.1.

“I feel good,” Urías said when asked about his slowdown. “It’s about executing pitches. I don’t feel like I executed enough. I could throw 100 miles per hour and the results would have been the same, because the execution was poor.”

Still, this was not last year’s Julio Urías. Remember him? He became their long-awaited revelation, becoming baseball’s only 20-game winner while also finishing in the top 10 in ERA (2.96). He was so good, he didn’t lose a game after June, going 11-0 with a 1.95 ERA to end the regular season.

Granted, the Dodgers messed him up in the postseason, strangely using him twice in relief and tiring his arm for a losing start against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series. But he had a wildly successful summer, and with the departure of Max Scherzer and exile of Trevor Bauer, Urías entered this season as a firm second starter behind Walker Buehler.

Kenley Jansen’s decision to sign with the Braves and Freddie Freeman joining the Dodgers adds an interesting dynamic for two MLB powerhouses in 2022.

How potentially big is Urías’ presence? If he doesn’t perform, the Dodgers might have to trade for not just one, but two starting pitchers, and how hard will that be?

Then there’s the looming fear by many fans that if Urías doesn’t perform, the Dodgers could use that as an excuse to excuse the alleged behavior of Bauer and allow him back on the team if baseball doesn’t suspend Bauer for the season.

Nobody is obviously talking about that part of the equation. But for many reasons, it’s clear Urías might be the most important arm on the team.

“Well, we’re counting on him,” said Roberts, later adding, “He’s certainly cognizant of what he means to our ballclub and our rotation. Today is not a good day for him, for us. But I do think that, looking out, he’s a guy that I know is going to get better. And he takes it personally. So I know that next turn is going to be considerably better.”

One could see from his frustrated moves on the mound that Urías takes this personally. Afterward, he tried to quickly put it behind him.

“It’s just one of those things where, it’s a long season, make those adjustments and then get ready for the next one,” he said.

Major League Baseball is putting balls into humidors to “standardize” them, but does it really work? Many pitchers have doubts about the procedure.

To be fair, there were many mitigating circumstances that might cause one to pause before making a serious evaluation of Sunday’s mess.

It’s just one start. It was in a funky ballpark with crazy altitude. Chris Taylor cost him three runs by losing a fight with the wind in left field and dropping a fly ball. Urías lost 20 pounds in the offseason, and perhaps is still trying to figure out his new body. He only pitched eight innings in the spring, and perhaps is still trying to figure out his evolving arm.

But the harsh truth remains that if Urías doesn’t pitch like a front-of-the-rotation starter, the Dodgers are in bottom-line trouble.

His season began Sunday. The mulligans end now.