Urias allowed one hit, struck out three and walked one in the outing, which came one day after manager Dave Roberts said an injury to left-handed reliever Tony Cingrani, combined with the uncertain status of starters Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, could create a season-opening spot for a multiple-innings reliever.
“You don’t want to make the team that way,” Urias said of the injury to Cingrani, who will begin the season on the injured list. “You want to go out there and do your job and show you can compete. But I do have that [relief] experience, in the playoffs and the World Series last year.”
Urias has allowed one run in nine innings this spring. He has a pitch repertoire varied enough that he was able to counter a lack of fastball command against the Reds, who fielded a lineup that included four former Dodgers – Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Jose Peraza and Kyle Farmer.
The 22-year-old Urias has the potential to be a front-line starter, but he’s two years removed from major shoulder surgery and threw only 22 innings last year. Management planned to have him begin this season in the Minor Leagues so he’d be fresh in the second half of the season and the postseason without incurring an innings spike from last year.
Things have changed with an immediate need for relief innings on the Major League level. Urias’ innings can be held down by pitching him out of the Dodgers' bullpen in the first half instead of making short starts in the Minor Leagues.
“With Julio, there’s innings we’ve got to manage,” said Roberts. “But this year is different than last year. We can do whatever we need. If he goes multiple innings, he’ll need a day off like any of our guys. I don’t think it’s a health thing, it’s more managing the overall innings.”
Roberts said Urias’ spring starts will be capped at four innings, a middle ground to prepare him for multiple innings of relief, but provide the arm strength for a spot start. Urias doesn’t see relief work as a demotion.
“All 25 guys on the roster are here for a purpose and the Dodgers’ purpose always is to win,” Urias said. “You’ve got to go about it the same off the bench or out of the bullpen, you try to help the team win.”
Urias said pitching relief, even multiple innings, might be easier on his shoulder than starting.
“With what I did last year and what I’m doing now, 50 pitches, I know I’ll wake up tomorrow and know I’ll feel good,” Urias said. “In a way, you can say maybe starting is harder. Starting, you have to think about throwing 80, 90 pitches. I’ll be ready if it’s the bullpen or as a starter.”
Urias came to camp last spring thinking he had a chance to win a job, only to be throttled back by management that wanted him to be a postseason weapon, which he was.
Despite making his Major League debut in 2016 as a 19-year-old, injuries have limited him to only 26 regular-season MLB games. But he’s already made nine postseason appearances, two in '16 and seven last year after spending nearly all of the regular season having his innings rationed in the Minor Leagues.