On Sunday morning, the day after his second straight poor start, Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Julio Urias was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers recalled right-handed reliever Josh Ravin to take Urias’s spot on the active roster.
When Urias was called up from Triple-A last month, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he was “here to stay.” Urias made that decision look good immediately, allowing just nine hits and two runs in 17 innings across his first three starts. Although he looked like a polished veteran at times, there were other times even during those outstanding outings where the 20-year-old’s inexperience was apparent. Most notably, he walked ten batters in those 17 innings, and his average of 16.1 pitches per inning meant he was unable to go deep in ballgames, leaving a heavy workload for the bullpen.
The short, outstanding outings were a pill the Dodgers were willing to swallow; his last two starts, though, were even shorter and nowhere near outstanding. After allowing six runs in four innings to the Colorado Rockies on May 14, Urias was tagged for seven runs (six earned) in 2.1 innings against the Miami Marlins on Saturday night. His ERA, which sat at 1.06 after his May 9 start against the Pittsburgh Pirates, is now 5.40.
So now, Urias is no longer “here to stay” in Los Angeles, but he is clearly still a big part of their future. After Saturday’s game, Roberts said, “You’ve got to get ahead of hitters to then give yourself a chance to be efficient and go deeper in games. I’m not sure if it’s mechanical with him, but we’ve got to figure it out.”
On some teams, Urias would probably have the opportunity to “figure it out” at the big-league level. But the Dodgers are a contending team with a glut of starting pitchers, so it makes sense for Urias to work on his issues in the minors. While most teams have five starting pitchers, the Dodgers have seven, and they have rotated a few of them on and off the disabled list to essentially run a six-man rotation.
Clayton Kershaw is obviously not going anywhere — in fact, he has basically been exempt from the six-man rotation, going every fifth game as usual. Fellow lefty Alex Wood has been outstanding, leading the National League with a 1.88 ERA and a 1.90 FIP. Right-hander Brandon McCarthy has been excellent in five of his seven starts, and most teams would kill for a 3.76 ERA from their fifth starter. Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu both have uglier ERAs (5.03 and 4.75, respectively), but both those numbers are inflated by one or two bad outings. Bad outings obviously count, but both Maeda and Ryu have put up solid outings recently.
Finally, you have lefty Rich Hill, who will return from his second blister-related stint on the disabled list this Wednesday to face the St. Louis Cardinals. Hill has only thrown 13 innings this year, but he has looked good when healthy. There is talk that Hill and the Dodgers think they’ve made a breakthrough in blister prevention for Hill, and if he can remain healthy, there’s no reason to think he will be anything other than stellar. Since making a career-saving change to his pitching approach in 2015, Hill has a 2.07 ERA in 152.1 innings pitched.
Throw in Urias, that’s seven starting pitchers for the Dodgers and no obvious candidate to be bumped to the bullpen. It’s questionable how long they can keep up a six-man rotation; there’s no way they could do seven. Throw in a handful of factors about Urias — his age, a soft innings limit this season, and his ineffectiveness come to mind — and it was a relatively easy decision for Roberts and the Dodgers front office to make. Urias will probably benefit from a start or three in the minors, and the Dodgers can move forward with their season knowing that he’s available whenever the next injury hits their pitching staff.
The future is still as bright as ever for Julio Urias. Expecting him to come in and be an ace at his age was probably never very realistic. In fact, a pretty recent precedent suggested that we might see these sorts of hiccups from Urias this season. It wasn’t too long ago that the Dodgers had a 20-year-old lefty phenom on the mound, and the big knock on his performance was that he was throwing too many pitches to go deep into ballgames. His talent was obvious, but it took another year or two for him to really harness it. His name was Clayton Kershaw; he turned out okay.