LOS ANGELES -- “Stability” has been a foreign concept for Dodgers starting pitching this season. Everyone from their Opening Day rotation has been on the injured list at some point, and several prospects have been pressed into service due to a lack of available arms.
“Julio, every five days, you feel very confident that we're gonna have a chance to win that game, and he looked like Julio tonight,” said Freddie Freeman, who put the Dodgers on the board with a two-run home run in the first inning.
Making his second start since returning from a six-week absence due to a left hamstring strain, Urías was still operating under some limitations. In spite of that, the left-hander was able to give Los Angeles a quality start, striking out eight while holding Pittsburgh to three hits and a walk. He leaned on his changeup more than usual, picking up five of his nine whiffs on it.
“His fastball always has good action to it, but the sharpness of the breaking ball and his changeup, it felt like it had really good action tonight and the hitters were off-balance,” said Max Muncy, whose go-ahead two-run shot in the sixth was his 20th homer of the season. “That, to me, shows me that his arm action’s back.”
In his first start back from the IL on Saturday, Urías dealt with some rust, allowing five runs to the Royals in the first and only making it through three innings. On Thursday, it was the second inning that proved troublesome for Urías, as the Pirates tagged him for three straight one-out hits and tied the game on a Nick Gonzales two-run double.
This time, however, Urías was able to bear down and keep things from spiraling, retiring the next 11 batters he faced before issuing a leadoff walk to Ke’Bryan Hayes in the sixth. But he was able to strand Hayes, and his night ended after 88 pitches, 59 of which he threw for strikes.
For Urías, that sixth inning was the culmination of the work he’s been doing on his pitching mechanics.
“In that last inning, it felt like it clicked,” Urías said through an interpreter. “Something clicked for me and that very last inning, and I think it's something I'm going to be able to take into the second half.”
Urías is coming off a career season, posting a 2.16 ERA and a 188 ERA+ in 31 starts to finish third in National League Cy Young Award voting in 2022. Above all, he established himself as someone who could reliably provide length, going at least six innings in 21 of those games.
This year, Urías has battled inconsistency. He allowed four or more earned runs just three times in 2022; he’s already done that in four ‘23 starts. A major point of contrast is that Urías has struggled with the long ball more than ever before, as he entered the day with a 2.16 HR/9, highest among Major Leaguers with at least 58 innings pitched.
“He started the season as our Opening Day starter, which was earned, and I think he wants to fulfill that responsibility,” manager Dave Roberts said prior to the game. “Up to this point, he hasn't been as consistent as he'd like, we'd like, and that's, I think, most frustrating.”
Those responsibilities have been magnified by the tattered state of the Dodgers’ rotation. This week alone, Clayton Kershaw -- once their most steady starting presence -- landed on the 15-day IL with left shoulder soreness, while Dustin May’s season ended due to right flexor tendon surgery. An already heavily worked bullpen took another couple of hits on Thursday, with Daniel Hudson (right MCL sprain) hitting the IL and Yency Almonte going on the paternity list.
Given the situation, Urías’ efforts on Thursday put the Dodgers in a good spot heading into their final first-half series while helping move them to just half a game behind the D-backs for first place in the NL West.
“This is Julio,” said Roberts. “I think there was a little bit of frustration. I think there was some embarrassment. And he rolled up his sleeves tonight, and he competed like he always does. But I just felt that tonight, he was truly on the attack from pitch one.”