In the first fully healthy season of his Major League career, former top pitching prospect Julio Urias has excelled as a swingman on the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching staff.
Urias started the season in the starting rotation because of injuries to Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, then moved to the bullpen once both returned from the 10-day injured list. Since then, Urias has fared well in a long relief role that sees him regularly pitch two or three innings at a time.
When Hill returned to the IL with a flexor strain that may keep him out until September, the Dodgers promoted Ross Stripling to fill the spot in the rotation, with Urias often soaking up innings behind him.
Meanwhile, Urias is far and away the Dodgers’ best left-handed reliever. The team has been connected to lefty bullpen arms in numerous trade rumors. One reason for that may be because Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is considering having Urias, not Stripling, as a fourth starter, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
“Not right now, but that’s a conversation probably more down the road,” Roberts said. “We know that he’s been in this role, but when you’re talking the end of August, there’s plenty of time to build up. He’s awfully valuable in any role.”
Urias still figures to start long term, but the Dodgers are being extra cautious with his innings workload after he missed most of 2017 and 2018 due to undergoing surgery for an anterior capsule tear in his throwing shoulder.
While that means Urias is left to shore up the Dodgers’ struggling bullpen, he arguably possesses more talent than either Stripling or Kenta Maeda, the team’s current fourth and fifth starters.
Additionally, Urias already has a track record of success in winner-take-all games. He threw two shutout innings in the Dodgers’ win over the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the 2016 National League Division Series.
In Game 7 of the 2018 NL Championship Series, Urias was called upon to retire eventual NL MVP Christian Yelich just one day after the death of his grandmother. Urias did so with some help from a spectacular catch in left field by Chris Taylor.
If the Dodgers add more dependable arms to their relief corps before the July 31 trade deadline, Urias could be more valuable to Roberts in the 2019 postseason as a starter.
Hill has much more experience come October, but the nature of his injury could easily limit him to a bullpen role, effectively swapping places with Urias.
Regardless, Roberts has the luxury of publicly speculating about these things now as the Dodgers currently own the best record in baseball and a double-digit lead in the NL West.