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Verdugo, Urias ready to impact big league club

@kengurnick
March 23, 2019

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Alex Verdugo and Julio Urías, the Dodgers’ top prospect and most promising young left-handed pitcher, respectively, are in a much happier place than a year ago -- on the big league roster for Opening Day. Verdugo made the club as an extra outfielder, while Urias will serve

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Alex Verdugo and Julio Urías, the Dodgers’ top prospect and most promising young left-handed pitcher, respectively, are in a much happier place than a year ago -- on the big league roster for Opening Day.

Verdugo made the club as an extra outfielder, while Urias will serve as a swingman already pressed into duty as the fifth starter with the injury to Rich Hill’s left knee. Both aspire to more impactful roles, but are at least glad they get to line up for intros on Thursday instead of watching the opener on television -- as Urias did last year -- from the club’s training facility at Camelback Ranch.

“Like a dream come true,” said Verdugo. “Pretty good news, for sure.”

With A.J. Pollock in center field and Cody Bellinger in right field almost every day, Verdugo will vie for left-field playing time with fellow left-handed hitter Joc Pederson. He also figures to spell Pollock in center.

“Whatever I get, I’ll take advantage of it, do what I do and after that, get more playing time that way,” said Verdugo. “It’s a mindset. It’s definitely not what you want. You want to play every day, that’s the goal.

“But the Dodgers, we do things slightly different. Everybody’s all-in on it, we understand our roles. If you play well, like [Max] Muncy did last year, you take off with the role. It’s the same with [Cody] Bellinger when A-Gon [Adrian Gonzalez] got hurt and [Chris] Taylor did it too. If you take advantage and play well, they’ll put you on the field.”

Urias was headed for the bullpen to hold down his innings, but figures to make at least a couple of starts before Hill returns. Back and forth between roles might be his role this year, as management wants to avoid a spike in innings in his first full season since undergoing shoulder surgery in 2017.

“I’m willing to do whatever they need, as long as I feel good,” said Urias. “My ultimate goal was to start the season on the team. If they want to use me every five days or out of the bullpen, my mentality is to do the best I can.”

Urias has been pitching exclusively out of the stretch since rejoining the club late last season, but he said he’s working on his old windup and hopes to bring it back for his start against the Giants on April 1.

“When they told me I would be a reliever I thought about being more in that mentality and used the stretch,” he said.

News and notes

• On Monday, Walker Buehler will throw a five-inning simulated game, while Clayton Kershaw will throw a two-inning simulated game. Buehler will be tuning up to start the final game of the Arizona series next Sunday. Kershaw is still rebuilding strength in his shoulder and will open the season on the injured list.

• Roberts said he still hasn’t settled on a batting order, having moved Pollock back and forth between spots one and five. The second baseman (Enrique Hernandez or Taylor) will likely bat seventh and the catcher (Austin Barnes or Russell Martin) will likely bat eighth, while third baseman Justin Turner and shortstop Corey Seager will be second and third or vice versa. Roberts said there’s a discussion on where to put Muncy and Bellinger.

The skipper added that Hernandez will get the majority of playing time at second base. Taylor will be moved around the most -- at second base, shortstop, center field and left field. David Freese will start occasionally at first base against left-handers, but will mostly be a late-inning bat off the bench. The only straight platoon will be left field.

• Brock Stewart, in the mix for the final pitching staff spot, had a difficult 3 1/3-inning start in Saturday's 5-1 loss to the White Sox. He was charged with four runs, though only one was earned. A two-out error by Cristian Santana turned a potentially scoreless first inning into a three-run frame for the White Sox. Stewart also allowed a homer to Yoan Moncada in the second.

Los Angeles needs a multiple-innings reliever for that last pitching spot. Dennis Santana and Dustin May will go to Los Angeles for the Freeway Series against the Angels and could be alternative options. The Dodgers are also believed to be considering making an acquisition to fill the role.

• Taylor, one of four big leaguers left behind for the game, homered off White Sox starter Manny Banuelos for one of the Dodgers' three hits.

• The Dodgers finished the Arizona portion of their Cactus League schedule 12-14-3 with a three-game Freeway Series against the Angels left to play.

• Injured reliever Tony Cingrani is a few days away from testing his shoulder after being shut down for two weeks. He will remain at Camelback Ranch to rehab.

• Roberts didn’t hesitate when asked which young player stood out this camp.

“Dustin May,” he said of the 22-year-old right-hander. “Much more advanced. Then just the makeup, the feel, his presence. Everything."

Up next

Ross Stripling will start Sunday’s Freeway Series game against the Angels 5:07 p.m. PT at Angel Stadium. Kenta Maeda starts on Monday and Urias will take the mound on Tuesday.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.