Sports

Column: Next Dodgers game could show real makeup of rookie pitcher Julio Urias

Julio Urias
Rookie Julio Urias is likely to pitch Thursday against the Washington Nationals in the decisive Game 5 of NLDS.
(Denis Poroy / Getty Images)

Maybe you won’t say it out loud because you know of the unlikelihood of there being two once-in-a-generation pitchers on the same team at the same time.

Or maybe it’s because you think it’s unfair to a 20-year-old to put that kind of burden on him.

But if you’re a fan of baseball, and of the Dodgers in particular, you’re hoping Julio Urias is even better than everyone says he is.

You probably won’t find out Thursday, but you might. Urias is expected to pitch multiple innings in the winner-take-all fifth game of the National League division series between the Dodgers and Washington Nationals.

Every year, in every sport, you are introduced to several supposed Next Big Things. Some of them become All-Stars. Others go on to have solid but unspectacular careers. And some flame out and are never heard from again.

A select few outperform their hyperbolic scouting reports and become the standard bearers of their sports — Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Clayton Kershaw among them.

Now here comes Urias, the Dodgers’ rookie left-hander from Mexico with the droopy left eyelid.

He is said to be the No.1 pitching prospect in baseball, but you still have no idea where his career is headed. While the majority of evaluators are forecasting a promising future for him, some scouts are skeptical about whether he can develop the command necessary to become a front-line starter.

And this is why you want to watch him pitch in Game 5. You want to know if he’s one of the exceptions.

Postseason baseball can humble even the best of players, and you really can’t be certain of how anyone will react until they are there.

Take Kenta Maeda, for example. He won 16 games in his first major league season. He had postseason success in Japan. He is 28. His coaches and teammates vouched for the strength of his character.

And what happened when Maeda pitched in Game 3? He completely unraveled.

This is the environment into which Urias will be thrust, only the crowd will be hostile and the stakes will be higher.

The game will be at Nationals Park.

Win and advance. Lose and go home.

He will also have the disadvantage of barely having pitched in the last month, with the Dodgers conserving his arm by limiting him to 14 innings over four September appearances, including three starts.

This isn’t the ideal situation for a young man with only 77 innings of major league experience. Common sense tells you he will have trouble controlling his nerves, that his performance will be uneven.

But there is the occasional outlier. Fernando Valenzuela was about 10 months older than Urias is now when he pitched a complete game in the 1981 World Series.

Tethered to innings and pitch counts, Urias lacks the durability Valenzuela had at that stage of his career. But he could have Valenzuela’s moxie.

Urias doesn’t appear shaken or unnerved by the possibility of pitching in an elimination game. Rich Hill is expected to start on three-days’ rest, meaning he will likely pitch only a few innings, which could require a multiple-inning relief effort from Urias.

Urias politely declined to speak about how he might be used, saying in Spanish with a laugh, “I don’t want to get myself into any trouble.”

Dodgers officials sound confident Urias has right mindset to deal with the magnitude of the game. So does his agent, Scott Boras.

“I do know how he’s going to react,” Boras said.

Borrowing a line from Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell, Boras continued, “He’s got ice in his veins. He’s built for these situations, in my mind.”

Boras can say he knows, but he’s guessing.

At this point, about the only certainty is that if something goes wrong, Urias won’t be damaged psychologically.

Urias was 19 when the Dodgers called him up to the major leagues for the first time in late May. His first start was against the defending NL champion New York Mets at Citi Field. He gave up three runs in only 2 2/3 innings.

His second assignment was arguably tougher. He was called on to pitch at hitter-friendly Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs, who finished the regular season with the best record in baseball.

Urias lasted five innings, but was charged with six runs, of which five were earned.

Urias more than recovered. He has posted a 2.73 earned-run average since then. He won his last five decisions to finish the regular season with a 5-2 record.

With the help of Kershaw, Hill and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, Urias modified his curveball. He also added a high fastball to a pitch mix that includes a better-than-average changeup.

He has looked as if he could be the real deal.

We could soon find out if he really is.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez