Rightfully so, there’s been a lot of chatter surrounding Julio Urias in the early days of 2019 spring camp. The Dodgers had their first look at the 22-year-old lefty during Cactus League play on Wednesday against Oakland. Besides his flawless stat line, there was plenty of complimentary applause for him, especially by his skipper Dave Roberts.
“Today he was really sharp,” Roberts said. “He’s been really sharp all spring. Fastball was 94-97. He’s focused. He looks great. He’s determined. He’s on that starter rotation, so we’ll see him in five days.”
High praise, indeed. Reporters around Camelback pressed the manager about how the Dodgers plan on using Urias during the upcoming campaign, and Roberts, always known to leave the door open for almost anything, surprised everyone by hinting at a slot in the rotation.
“The door is open for him,” Roberts added. “The opportunity will present itself if it’s supposed to.”
Minds of some fans drifted immediately to the prospect of Urias taking the spot of Clayton Kershaw in the rotation due to the ace’s problematic shoulder, but the truth is that there’s more than four weeks before Opening Day, which is a ton of time for a number of different scenarios to play out.
Regardless, many are still wondering if there are any firm plans for the young southpaw this year, or if the squad intends on using him on the fly, based on whatever needs the club might have.
One emerging line of thought is that the club will use him sparingly in the early portion of the year, saving the bulk of his workload for the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs. In this light, some have theorized the team will have him join the rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma City to start the year; however, if he’s on a specified innings limit, it doesn’t make much sense wasting those innings in the minors, especially if his stuff is as good as everyone says.
Another less-popular theory is that the club might use Urias as a reliever. This seems impractical, particularly because of the amount of big league depth the team has. As it stands now, there may be up to three or four capable relievers forced to begin their seasons on the farm.
Personally, I can see it playing out similarly to the way teammate Walker Buehler was used last year. Everyone knew that Buehler had a limit heading into the 2018 season, but nobody knew the specifics. As it turned out, Buehler threw 153-1/3 frames between the majors and the minors. He wasn’t called up to the bigs until late April, eventually staying in the rotation to make nine consecutive turns. Fans will remember him getting stung by a Trevor Story comebacker which led to a microfracture in his ribs, causing him to miss three weeks of action.
Injuries are seldom a good thing, but the timing couldn’t have been better for Buehler. He rejoined the rotation on July 13 and has remained cemented in his spot since. The season played out perfectly for him as far as his innings limit and usage went. The 13 innings he threw at the minor league level during the first month of the 2018 season were managed perfectly.
Nevertheless, Roberts indicated that Urias will continue to be on a five-day rotation during Cactus League play, which conceivably suggests that extended spring training is off the table. If the Dodgers were to indeed start Urias in the minors and allow him to throw about three innings a week for a month, it would seemingly keep him fresh while starting him out on a pace similar to what Buehler saw last year.
The most important thing could be knowing exactly what the Dodgers have in mind in terms of an innings limit.
In any event, it’s certainly nice to know the club has a weapon of Urias’ caliber waiting to be unleashed.