(Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo)
Just one day after the second-best pitching prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization struck out nine batters and threw five innings of shutout ball, the highest ranked player on the farm tossed six brilliant frames of near-perfect baseball.
Perhaps fueled by the friendly fire of competition, Julio Urias went six very strong innings in an early affair on Wednesday, striking out six batters and allowing no runs, hits or walks.
The only blip that prevented six perfect frames from Urias occurred when New Orleans first baseman Dan Black reached on a fielding error by Oklahoma City shortstop Zach Walters in the top of the fifth inning.
Urias, still only 19-years-old, is typically limited to five innings and approximately 80 pitches per outing by his coaches and scouting directors. However, while flirting with perfection and having a relatively low pitch count on Wednesday, he was permitted to toss one additional inning past his normal limit.
Still, the young lefty who constantly oozes humility, thinks he’s capable of pitching even better down the road.
“I feel like it’s too early to say this was my best,” Urias told Danny Wild of milb.com through an interpreter. “I plan on working harder.”
He struck out two in the first frame, fanned Black looking to start the second inning, struck out second baseman Elliot Soto in the third and struck out two more Zephyrs in the fourth. He whiffed third baseman Austin Nola to end the sixth inning before finally exiting the game.
Urias threw a total of 77 pitches — 52 for strikes.
“My goal is to get to the Majors, but it’s not the end goal,” Urias added. “I still want to do better and I’m thankful that people see me this way right now. I still want improvement, I want to get better and I plan every day on getting better any way I can.”
OKC reliever Lisalverto Bonilla surrendered two walks but kept the no-hitter alive through the eighth inning before Nola led off the ninth frame with a line single to left field to break it up. Chin-hui Tsao came on to record the final two outs to seal the one-hitter. The 5-0 victory was Oklahoma City’s fourth shutout of the year.
Catcher Jack Murphy hit a two-run homer in the third inning to start the scoring. Second baseman Micah Johnson, right fielder Corey Brown, and Austin Barnes, playing center field on Wednesday, all had two hits apiece for OKC.
One day earlier, 23-year-old righty Jose De Leon made his Triple-A and season debut in a night game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. He pitched five scoreless frames, allowing two hits and a walk, while striking out nine batters. The nine whiffs tied Urias for the most strikeouts by an OKC pitcher this season.
Despite De Leon’s dominance on the bump, Oklahoma City lost to visiting New Orleans, 2-0.
In an effort to conserve innings to be fresh later in the season, coupled with a minor ankle sprain in late March, Dodgers’ management decided to hold De Leon back in extended spring training to begin the season.
“I was pretty excited,” De Leon told Josh Jackson of milb.com. “I wasn’t too worried about pitching in Triple-A for the first time. It was more about pitching for the first time this year. I was excited. The adrenaline was pumping, and that’s all I was thinking about. I just tried to go out there and do what I do. I was so excited to be competing again.”
He worked a number of deep counts throughout the evening, and landed at 88 pitches through five innings, enough to convince OKC manager Bill Hasselman to pinch hit Rico Noel for De Leon in the sixth.
“All of those guys went to a 3-2 count. I wasn’t upset, but I knew I had to attack the hitters more,” De Leon added. “If I went 3-2 all game, I was going to be out early. It’s not perfectionism, but I know I can always do better. I tried to attack the hitters a little more after that, and it worked.”
OKC reliever Luis Avilan, who replaced De Leon in the sixth inning, was charged with his first loss of the season. He allowed two runs on two hits, walked two and had three strikeouts over 1-2/3 innings of work.
Barnes, who did the catching on Tuesday evening, went 3-for-4 with three singles.
In the two successive starts for Urias and De Leon, their combined scoreline was 11.0 innings pitched, two hits, no runs, one walk and fifteen strikeouts — not too shabby for a one-two punch on the farm.
Hoping for a series split, Oklahoma City will conclude the four game set with the Zephyrs on Thursday evening, when righty Zach Lee opposes Dylan Axelrod of New Orleans. First pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m. Central time.