LOS ANGELES — Two months before the end of the regular season, Julio Urias still has time to prove he can be the ace the Dodgers expected him to be this year.
Thursday night was off to a good start, as Urias pitched five scoreless innings in the Dodgers game. Victory 8-2 to complete a sweep of the A’s at Dodger Stadium.
“There’s been a lot of inconsistency throughout the year, but I feel like I’m myself on the mound, I feel like I’m stronger on the mound,” Urías said through team interpreter Juan Dorado. “…I feel really good about where I’m at right now.”
After a mixed July and in the midst of an overall hectic season, Urías began his outing with eight days of rest, with his most recent start coming on July 25. Hampered by an injury to his left index finger that affected his throwing ability, Urías was working with limitations, with manager Dave Roberts stating before the game that he hadn’t seen the southpaw go north of five innings.
That’s exactly what Urias gave the Dodgers, needing just 68 pitches to get through the Oakland lineup twice. He scattered three hits and a walk, his biggest jam coming early on, like many of his struggles this year.
With one out in the first, Urías gave up a single to Zack Gelof and walked Ramon Laureano. This prompted shortstop Miguel Rojas to sideline Urías for a word – after which Urías was able to escape by inducing a grounding double play to third.
“It wasn’t really a conversation — I just wanted to give him a break or an opportunity to tell me what was on his mind,” Rojas said. “And he just told me he was going to keep fighting. And I just told him, “We’re behind you. Let them hit. And that’s what he did.
Overall, Urias’ speed was down across the board. His four-seamer averaged 91.6 mph, 1.2 mph below his season average. But Roberts watched him get stronger as the night progressed, with his fastest throw of the evening – a 94.4 mph heater – coming in fifth. Three of Urias’ five strikeouts came in that inning, when he ended his night on a strong note by striking out the side.
“It might have been a little bit of a layoff, but I still thought the fastball characteristics were good, the location was good after that first inning,” Roberts said. “Slider (was) good and even getting that change, it’s a really good feeling for that ending.”
Of course, Urías will have bigger challenges than the A’s, who have the worst record in MLB. And he had a lot of good starts throughout the year; the problem remained in a rhythm for a long period of time. But for a Dodgers team clinging to a 2 1/2 game NL West leads compared to the second-place Giants, a reliable anchor in the rotation for the stretch run could make the difference – making this the most opportune time for Urías to put it all together.
“That’s who he is,” Roberts said. “And so if we can build on that…we’re in a good position.”
After Urías on Thursday, he was the rookie Emmet Sheehan, making his first relief appearance after seven starts to open his Major League career. Sheehan managed the final four innings, allowing a solo homer to Gelof in the sixth and one to Tyler Soderstrom in the eighth. He struck out three and issued a walk.
For a team that has struggled to have enough healthy starting arms this year, Sheehan, 23, has done a solid job of filling that role thus far. But with Lance Lynn and Ryan Yarbrough now in the fold, the likely activation of Clayton Kershaw next week and a potential return from Tommy John surgery for Walker Buehler in September, the Dodgers suddenly find themselves with an abundance of options .
For now, the bullpen makes sense as a landing spot for Sheehan, with the Dodgers intending to keep him built if they need length.
“I thought he threw the baseball with conviction tonight,” Roberts said. “And there’s no way to make it easier for you to get into the game. And so to be able to check that box in the big leagues, I thought it was good for him, good for me to see it.”