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Urías solid in bid for October rotation spot

First-inning struggles could impact lefty's case for No. 3 starter role
@JesseSanchezMLB
September 18, 2020

There are very few questions surrounding the Dodgers these days. They have the best record in baseball and have already clinched a playoff spot. Who they play in the first round and the makeup of the postseason rotation are the only mysteries that remain. Sure, it’s safe to pencil in

There are very few questions surrounding the Dodgers these days.

They have the best record in baseball and have already clinched a playoff spot. Who they play in the first round and the makeup of the postseason rotation are the only mysteries that remain.

Sure, it’s safe to pencil in Clayton Kershaw for Game 1 and Walker Buehler for Game 2, or some combination of the two.

But what if there’s a Game 3?

Will the Dodgers send Julio Urías to mound with their season on the line, or will that honor go to Dustin May or Tony Gonsolin? Would the club employ a bullpen game on the brink of elimination?

What’s certain is the club will match up accordingly, and every pitch Urías throws until the end of the regular season matters. On Thursday, Urías threw 26 pitches in an erratic first inning, but settled down to throw 5 2/3 effective frames in the 9-3 win against the Rockies at Coors Field.

Box score

He allowed only three hits and continues to give the Dodgers a lot to think about with the regular season winding down.

“I was able to keep my focus,” Urías said in Spanish. “I knew I had a bad first inning with a lot of pitches. I just wanted to work as fast as I could and throw strikes from that point on. I was able to get some outs without a lot of pitches. That helped me.”

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His first-inning struggles are well-documented. Consider this: Urías has allowed 10 runs in the first inning this season. He’s responded by allowing only nine runs in 39 innings after the first inning for a 2.08 ERA.

“We've talked about it, and we got to continue to talk through it and make adjustments, whatever it might be,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of his pitcher’s first-inning troubles. “We got to keep working and Julio understands that, too.”

On Thursday, Urías struggled in the first inning again, giving up a pair of runs to put his team in an early hole. Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager answered with a home run as part of a two-run fourth to tie the game. Mookie Betts put the Dodgers ahead, 3-2, with an RBI single in the seventh and Seager added an RBI double to extend the lead to two runs. Seager, who also hit a single in the fifth, finished 3-for-5 and a triple short of hitting for the cycle.

In all, the Dodgers scored six runs in the seventh.

But the night belonged to Urías. His first-inning woes were overshadowed by the way he bounced back. The Dodgers’ left-hander gave up a hit to three of the first five hitters he faced, then went on to retire the next 13 batters in a row until Raimel Tapia reached on an error by third baseman Edwin Ríos in the sixth. Urías retired the next hitter, Trevor Story, on one pitch and Charlie Blackmon grounded into a forceout at second for the second out of the frame.

Urías would not face another hitter, getting replaced by Dylan Floro, who got Nolan Arenado to pop out and preserve Urías’ line.

“Once he kind of got loose and got that adrenaline or whatever you call it going, it was a lot more crisp,” Roberts said. “For him to rebound like that was really good.”

But another important question remains: Can the Dodgers afford a slow start in the first inning by Urías in an elimination game? Roberts added his team is not close to setting the rotation for the postseason. He described the situation as “opponent dependent.” Urías said he will be ready.

“That’s the team’s decision, and I respect what they decide,” Urías said. “I have experience as a starter. I have experience out of the bullpen. I’ll do whatever they want me to do.”

Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.