October 25, 2021

Whicker: Julio Urías gives Dodgers confidence in NLDS Game 5

View Original Notice ? Whicker: Julio Urías gives Dodgers confidence in NLDS Game 5

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Before he even threw a regular-season pitch this season, Julio Urías had a 3-0 lead.

It sort of went on from there.

Urías took that 3-0 lead into the eighth inning in Colorado and picked up the first of his 20 victories. He became the first to do that in the National League since Max Scherzer in 2016 for Washington.

There were no countdowns or trumpets, because a pitcher’s W is considered a relic, like a Polaroid or the single-wing.

Why? Look at the runs he got. Six times in those 32 starts, the Dodgers scored nine or more runs for Urias. When he was on the mound and his stats are extrapolated through 27 outs, the Dodgers scored 6.4 runs per start. He won eight times when he didn’t have a quality start.

It means Urías isn’t a serious Cy Young Award candidate like teammates Scherzer and Walker Buehler. It does not diminish him among the Dodgers.

He has permanent credibility after he mowed down the final nine batters in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, and then did the same to the final seven Tampa Bay batters in Game 6 to win the World Series. Maybe this smorgasbord of nightly runs for Urias was proper compensation.

Urías brings the ball to the final game of the NL Division Series on Thursday night in San Francisco. On Sunday, he stood between the Dodgers and a two-game series deficit, and he held the Giants to one run in five innings and drove in one, too, after they had intentionally walked AJ Pollock.

The Dodgers led 2-1 when he left, then ran away to win 9-2. They’re fine with Urías’ lucky charms. Whenever he pitches, the other team has trouble hitting.

Urías was sixth in the National League in WHIP, seventh in innings, seventh in ERA, third in walks per nine innings, and ninth in batting average against. He had started only 38 games before this season. The Dodgers used to cough uncontrollably when asked if Urias could be a 200-inning pitcher someday. This year, he pitched 185-2/3.

“It’s been fun to watch him grow from last year, when they said, ‘Hey, we’re going to use you all the time and pitch two or three innings,’” Buehler said. “’And this year, you’re getting a full year of 30 starts and we’ll see what you can do.’ I don’t think we could have any more confidence in anyone pitching this game than Julio.”

On April 20, the Dodgers left Urías to his own devices. He went seven innings in a 1-0 win at Seattle. Scott Boras, his representative, circles that day.

“He found his breaking ball,” Boras said. “He’s been able to keep developing that, and his changeup, and still maintain 95 mph. Now the hitters can’t predict when he’ll throw the fastball, because he’s throwing the curve and change 40 percent of the time. It’s a way to get the elite right-hand hitters out.”

Winning 20 games in 32 starts, when you’re only permitted to throw as many as 100 pitches once, is noteworthy. No other major-league pitcher won more than 17.

When Bob Welch won 27 games in 35 starts for Oakland in 1990, he got 5.23 runs per game, but he also won the American League Cy Young Award.

It’s nice to pitch with a cushion. The batters usually start lunging for contact, looking for that magic six-run homer. But comebacks happen quicker these days, and Urías normally stops them before they start.

Nolan Ryan said his job was to outlast and preferably outpitch the other starter. That’s how you build W’s. The fact that the W isn’t an all-encompassing gauge for a pitcher is hardly a new concept. Back in 1968, nobody in baseball thought Denny McLain (31 wins, 1.96 ERA) was having a better year than Bob Gibson (22 wins, 1.12). But it isn’t meaningless either.

More important is the way that Urías has emerged from an unerring Dodger lab project. His last full season was 2019 and he pitched only 79-2/3 innings. From the time L.A. signed Urías at 16, they bubble-wrapped him to produce something like this at 25.

“We had constant communication,” Boras said. “They brought him along very, very slowly. They’ve done a great job, developing him without all the stress of innings. It helps that Julio has that athleticism, very strong, and now we’ve all seen what kind of competitor he is.”

“It’s like he’s got this old soul,” Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts said. “He goes out there on the mound like he’s been there, he’s done it. He’s got so much confidence, it just kind of oozes out on everybody else.”

Then it explodes on the scoreboard.

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