Should Dodgers Hold Back Julio Urias Early in Season?

(Mandatory Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

As the beginning of spring training creeps ever so closer, plenty of philosophies and prospective strategies surrounding the 25-man roster of the Dodgers will presumably begin to emerge from outlets everywhere across the baseball blogosphere. And whenever a member of the Los Angeles management crew shares a few words with reporters hinting about the makeup of the club’s starting rotation, stories always seem to surface very quickly.

Such was the case when GM Farhan Zaidi briefly spoke about the usage of Julio Urias earlier in the week, which ultimately led to a statement from skipper Dave Roberts indicating that the 20-year-old lefty could conceivably begin the 2017 regular season in extended spring training at Glendale.

The concept of Urias being on an innings limit last season was discussed from the moment he was initially called upon in late May. The Dodgers were indeed careful with the young southpaw, and although the team ultimately decided to utilize his services in the playoffs, there were several points in the season where he was relegated to the bullpen in efforts to conserve the mileage on his arm.

In all, Urias posted a 5-2 record with a 3.39 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 15 starts over 77 regular season innings for the Dodgers in 2016. He also threw 45 innings at Triple-A Oklahoma City after never exceeding 90 total innings in a single calendar year.

When president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman was asked about his stance with Urias’ workload late last season, he admitted that the club was venturing into uncharted waters.

“In Julio’s case, in particular, it’s a little more unique because of how advanced he is at such a young age. I think as an industry we know more about how to limit starting pitcher injuries than we did 10 years ago, but there’s no question in my mind we’ll know significantly more five years from now,” Friedman said. “I think it’s important not to overstate what you don’t know, but until we know more, you almost always have to err on the side of caution.”

As far as 2017 goes, the idea behind this current theory is limiting Urias’ usage early, trying to save his more impactful innings for the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

The fact that the Dodgers may have a surplus of arms available for the starting rotation at the start of the season could also factor into the decision of holding back Urias. What’s more, the pitchers who have option years remaining on their contracts could potentially take back seats to the veterans, at least for the beginning of the season.

Barring injury, the first three spots in the rotation are set with resident ace Clayton Kershaw, southpaw Rich Hill and Japanese righty Kenta Maeda as the headliners. If all the other contenders are healthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, Brock Stewart and Urias will all be vying for the few remaining spots at the back-end of the rotation. With the way the injury bug devastatingly ripped into the Dodgers‘ 2016 pitching staff, though, it’s almost futile to even make a generalized guess at a working rotation before pitchers and catchers show up on February 15.

In other news, on Wednesday evening the Dodgers reportedly signed righty reliever Brandon Morrow to a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation to spring training. If he’s able to work his way into the relief corps on the 25-man roster, he’ll earn $1.25 million for the upcoming campaign.

After missing almost 18 months with a shredded shoulder, the 32-year-old of Santa Rosa posted a 1.69 ERA in 18 relief appearances after his return to the mound for the Padres last August, tallying eight strikeouts and three walks in the process.


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