The Dodgers built their pitching depth by collecting players with a history of injuries. Did those health concerns prevent the team from properly preparing Julio Urias for this season?
The Dodgers demoted Urias to triple-A Oklahoma City on Sunday, hours after he failed to survive the third inning of his latest start.
He is 0-2 with a 5.40 earned-run average in five starts, and he has walked more batters (14) than he has struck out (11). Of the last 36 batters he has faced, he has given up 14 hits and struck out one.
The Dodgers deferred Urias' start to the season, conserving his pitches to protect his precocious 20-year-old arm. But, because they did not know how many of their veteran starters would be ready for opening day, they had to give him a few innings in spring training in case they needed him sooner than they would have liked.
"The anticipation was, back off four or five starts and let his season begin," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "But we had to also be where he could turn up the volume and possibly be ready the first or second week of the season."
As it turned out, Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu both were ready for the opener, even if Scott Kazmir was not. By then, however, Urias had made five Cactus League appearances, only one for more than 16 pitches.
The Dodgers then shut him down for 12 days, followed by three starts at Oklahoma City — for 79, 73 and 93 pitches, respectively — and then five starts in the major leagues. But those eight starts all came on regular rest, so manager Dave Roberts did not agree with the notion that the irregular competition might help explain Urias' struggles this season.
"I think that there might be a case, but he's had five starts here, with consistency," Roberts said. "His season started late. But, if you look at the buildup, wherever it is, whether it's in the major leagues or at Oklahoma City, he had starts on a regular schedule. For him to not have the consistency in his breaking ball, leaving the change up, the fastball command, I don't see that as a reason why. I really don't.
"The inconsistency of hitting his location has, unfortunately, been consistent."
In the first 23 games of his career, Clayton Kershaw had a 4.15 ERA and 4.5 walks per nine innings. In the first 23 games of his career, Urias has a 3.86 ERA, and 4.1 walks per nine innings.
"We're not going to take an outing or two and send up a surrender flag," Honeycutt said. "This kid's got great stuff. He's going to be great. It's just a little bump in the road right now."
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6:40 p.m.: This article has been updated with more details and quotes.