Urías shakes off rust in tough-luck 1st, then settles in return

July 2nd, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- It was a turbulent beginning for in his first start off the IL since May 18 with a left hamstring strain, but a smooth landing for the key piece to the Dodgers’ starting rotation in a 6-4 loss to Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday night.

He allowed five runs in the first inning and threw 35 pitches to get the first three outs against the Royals, who entered Saturday 29th in the Major Leagues in runs per game.

“I just have to pitch better,” Urías said. “Obviously, I felt good, but I didn’t do my job and I have to pitch better.”

In fairness, the Royals weren’t tattooing his pitches for towering homers, but instead blooping hits just past the infield. Three of Kansas City’s four hits in the first inning had exit velocities of 68.5, 63.8 and 71.5. Nevertheless, the Dodgers found themselves in a 5-0 hole after the first frame. Things got better for the southpaw after that, but the opening inning was the difference.

It took 27 pitches before Urías recorded his first out.

“I pitched bad,” Urías said. “I had a lot of mistakes and I have to be better. I need to get results and get the outs.”

However, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts saw his outing a bit differently.

“That was a frustrating inning,” Roberts said. “I thought initially he came out good, but he just got victimized by a lot of soft contact. They weren’t swinging and missing, but just putting the ball in play. It was somehow finding the outfield grass, but give Urías a lot of credit for getting through it and getting up to 66 pitches and throwing up a couple zeros.”

Urías left some balls up in the zone that allowed Royals hitters to poke the ball to the outfield and find gaps for base hits.

“When the ball is a little more elevated, you have a better chance for some flares,” Roberts said. “When he is right, and even in the third inning he had balls lower in the zone, but he was a tick up tonight.”

One turning point in the outing was a 12-pitch walk to Nick Pratto in the first inning that led to visible frustration from Urías.

“I think that took a lot out of him,” catcher Will Smith said. “More so I think than the hit after hit after hit probably did. Then you add the long at-bat and we had a mound visit, but then they had a couple more hits after that, but it’s part of baseball.”

After the first inning, Urías settled down, throwing two scoreless frames and needing just 31 pitches in the second and third innings combined. The difference was an effective fastball and slurve to sit down the Royals.

“The execution could’ve been a little better, but it’s [his] first outing in a couple months, and he competed,” Smith said.

If the Dodgers want to have a successful second half and postseason, they need Urías to lead the starting rotation. Los Angeles has turned to rookies to piece together injuries from key starters like Urías, Walker Buehler and Dustin May. Buehler is most likely out for the rest of the season and May could return at some point in the second half.

And with Clayton Kershaw now dealing with left shoulder inflammation, Urías needs to be a rock in the rotation moving forward.

“We will need to make a decision tomorrow on whether [Kershaw] will start on Monday,” Roberts said. “If he can’t, we’ll have to put him on the IL.”

The 26-year-old Urías led the National League with a 2.16 ERA last season and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

The best news for Dodger fans is that Urías said he feels great after his first start back from the IL.

Despite his final line on Saturday not looking as easy on the eyes as he would have hoped, the Dodgers’ ace is back just in time for the second half of the season.

“I didn’t want to push him too much, but knowing he could’ve pitched another inning, I think that’s a good sign,” Roberts said. “Ultimately, for him to come out of that game healthy and strong, it’s good.”