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Julio Urías earns his first opening day start for Dodgers

Dodgers' Julio Urías pitches against the San Diego Padres on Oct. 11, 2022, at Dodger Stadium.
Julio Urías pitches for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres on Oct. 11.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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Major League Baseball asked its teams to wait until Friday to reveal their opening day starters, hoping to turn the annual announcements into a leaguewide event.

For the Dodgers, however, the choice had been evident for a while now.

Julio Urías will get the nod for the first time in his career — a fitting honor for a left-hander who has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the sport over the last several seasons.

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“I think he’s earned this opportunity,” manager Dave Roberts said, with the pitching matchup for the team’s March 30 opener against the Diamondbacks finally officially set. “He’s checked a lot of boxes and this is one of the last for him; something that from his teammates to all of us, we’re excited for him to have this opportunity.”

Urías enters 2023 at both a high point and a crossroads of his burgeoning career.

Julio Urías’ family gathers around a TV in Culiacán every time he pitches. They pray for the Dodgers ace who overcame eye surgeries to become a star.

Sept. 15, 2022

He had his best season in the majors last year, when he went 17-7 with a National League-best 2.16 ERA to finish third in Cy Young Award voting. He also just returned from the World Baseball Classic, where he was the face of a Mexican team that made a surprise run to the semifinals.

The Dodgers are hoping he can parlay it into a strong regular-season performance, too, relying on Urías to serve as their ace with injury questions dotting the rest of the team’s rotation.

“He’s a guy that’s going to be our workhorse,” Roberts said at the start of the camp. “If you look at the rotation and how it’s kind of constructed, I would expect him to lead our staff in innings pitched and perform the way he has the last few years.”

If he does so, it will result in a massive payday for the 26-year-old this offseason.

Urías is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career. And though both he and the Dodgers have indicated they’d like to continue their partnership in the future, there have thus far been no signs they’ll be able to strike an extension before the start — or end — of the campaign.

Julio Urías was the Dodgers’ top pitcher in 2022 and he’s a favorite among the team’s Latino fan base. The Dodgers can’t afford to lose him in free agency.

Feb. 6, 2023

“The whole world knows how situations with contracts are or how they can turn out,” Urías said in Spanish last month. “That’s not something you can hide. Obviously, I’ll try to maximize my focus on baseball, and what happens later, what has to happen will happen.”

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With Friday’s announcement, though, Urías is now guaranteed at least one opening day start at Dodger Stadium.

While arguments could have been made for either Urías or future Hall of Fame teammate Clayton Kershaw — who made opening day starts for the Dodgers in every season he was healthy from 2011 to 2021 and was having his own stellar 2022 performance before missing a couple months with back injuries — even Kershaw acknowledged Urías had earned it.

“I’m happy for Julio,” Kershaw said. “It’s a special thing to get to do. I think it should be whoever pitched the best the year before. And he did that.”

A strong performance in the spring has earned rookie outfielder James Outman, 25, a spot on the Dodgers’ opening day roster.

March 23, 2023

Roberts is confident Urías, who returned to Dodgers camp from the WBC this week and will make his final spring training start on Friday afternoon, won’t be overloaded by this latest responsibility, either.

“I’ll tell you this, he’s one of the best guys I’ve seen at compartmentalizing,” Roberts said. “I can’t appreciate the expectation that a country has for you, to be the face of a country right now as a ballplayer. And I just trust now that he has his focus on the season and what will be [with his contract] will be when it comes time. But he’s focused on helping us win a championship. I know that for a fact.”

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