Column: Julio Urías was masterful in Game 1 until he wasn’t. Dodgers will need more from him
Julio Urías is still waiting.
He’s still waiting for that game that will change everything for him, that postseason performance that will allow him to cross the invisible boundary that separates him from the pitcher he wants to be.
That wasn’t the game he pitched Tuesday night.
Urías was the pitcher of record in the Dodgers’ 5-3 victory over the San Diego Padres in Game 1 of their National League Division Series.
He also unraveled in a startling fifth inning, reducing his team’s five-run lead to two and forcing manager Dave Roberts to rely on the bullpen to cover the last four innings.
After missing the 2021 playoffs because of injury, Clayton Kershaw is excited to help play a part in the Dodgers’ quest to win a World Series title.
That’s not what No. 1 pitchers do, especially No. 1 pitchers on 111-win teams with World Series title aspirations.
“As a starter, the truth is we want to reach the late stages of the game,” Urías said in Spanish. “But we also know that if we fall short, we will have the support of the bullpen.”
Here’s the problem: Evan Phillips threw 26 pitches in the sixth inning as he navigated the part of the Padres’ order that included Juan Soto and Manny Machado.
Here’s another problem: Alex Vesia pitched 1 2/3 innings.
In other words, Urías’ failure to record more outs could compromise the future availability of two of the Dodgers’ most dependable relievers.
Urías has to do more than win games. As a No. 1 starter, he has the responsibility to set up his team for the remainder of the series.
Trea Turner helps the Dodgers jump out to a quick lead before a Padres surge forces the Dodgers to lean on the bullpen in a 5-3 win in Game 1 of the NLDS.
With Phillips and Vesia potentially down in Game 2, the burden of pitching into the later innings could be passed to the 34-year-old Kershaw.
Someone has to do it. Projected Game 3 starter Tyler Anderson figures to be on a short leash. The Dodgers don’t have a traditional No. 4 starter, as Tony Gonsolin just recently returned from an arm injury and will have a limited workload.
But if Urías didn’t perform the role of a traditional ace, Tuesday offered evidence of his capabilities. Through four innings, he pitched with an extra oomph that made him virtually unhittable, as he retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced.
His fastball was up a tick. He hit the edges of the plate. He altered the tempo of his delivery to disrupt the rhythms of the Padres’ already overmatched hitters.
Urías was masterful — until he wasn’t.
All three of the runs he gave up came in the fifth inning. He surrendered a home run to Wil Myers. He yielded a single to Jake Cronenworth, who later scored on a groundout by Trent Grisham. He gave up a double to Ha-Seong Kim, who was eventually driven in on a sacrifice fly by Austin Nola.
“They just did a nice job of building an inning right there,” Roberts said.
What was a 5-0 lead to start the inning was reduced to 5-3. The three-run surge marked the premature end of the night for Urías, who was removed from the game with his pitch count at just 79.
Urías’ final line: five innings, three runs, four hits, no walks and six strikeouts.
The game marked the 23rd career postseason appearance for Urías but only his sixth start.
So, he had been here before, just not like this.
Whether it was because they were trying to preserve his arm, take advantage of his ability to pitch in relief or lacked faith in him, the Dodgers had previously been reluctant to treat Urías as if he were one of baseball’s best.
He had recovered from a major shoulder operation.
He had recorded the final out of their World Series title-clinching victory in 2020.
He had won 20 games last year.
Still didn’t matter.
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Roberts practically sabotaged Urías’ chances of making the All-Star team, wondering aloud whether he could be excluded because the Dodgers had too many other players who would be honored.
But the organization’s view of Urías gradually improved over the season, perhaps out of necessity.
Walker Buehler underwent reconstructive elbow surgery and was ruled out for the remainder of the season. The Dodgers didn’t acquire Luis Castillo or any other front-line pitcher at the trade deadline.
They had to turn to Urías, who finished the season with a 17-7 record and an NL-best 2.16 earned-run average.
Reflecting on his arduous journey to become the team’s No. 1 starter, Urías said: “I feel like that’s the beautiful part, and the most important and what I can take most out of this. Obviously, I’ve gone through a lot of things, a lot of good, a lot of bad, but at the end of the day, there’s always the opportunity, the moment you prepare for. I feel like taking advantage of it to the maximum would be the best.”
He only did that for four innings Tuesday night. He has to give his team more.
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