LOS ANGELES -- After some deliberation, the Dodgers have locked in Julio Urías to start Game 4 -- rather than Game 5 -- of the National League Championship Series against the Braves on Wednesday.
That much was figured out before L.A.’s 6-5 comeback win in Game 3 on Tuesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, manager Dave Roberts said. It was just a matter of whether Urías would get the ball with a series deficit of 2-1 or 3-0.
Several factors went into that decision, but the biggest one was just how Urías was feeling following a tough relief outing that resulted in a blown save in Game 2 in Atlanta. Though he threw just 14 pitches in that eighth inning, he was tagged for two runs on three hits, allowing the Braves to tie the game ahead of walking it off in the ninth.
Roberts noted previously that there may be a “cost” to the unconventional pitching strategy he’s used this postseason, one that has blurred the lines between traditional pitching roles. It has seen starters Urías and Max Scherzer enter out of the bullpen when the situation dictated it. But Roberts doesn’t believe that cost will be felt with Urías in Game 4.
“We planned on a bullpen game either Game 4 or Game 5 this series, so I don't think that using Julio in Game 2 changed that,” Roberts said upon returning to L.A. “So I don't see the cost. … Things just aren't, can't be scripted. You've got to kind of sometimes go off-script to [do] what we feel is the best chance to win a game, let alone a particular series.”
Certainly, it can be argued that Urías’ abbreviated Game 2 outing was akin to a between-starts throwing session. The fact of the matter, though, is that it was a much higher-stress situation for him than typical side work would be. So just how much should reasonably be expected from Urías in Game 4?
“I feel good with where he's at, and I'm going to watch him,” said Roberts. “As long as he's being efficient and throwing the baseball well, we're going to let him run.”
Urías, 25, has already shouldered the heaviest workload of his career this season by a sizable margin, throwing 185 2/3 innings across 32 games in the regular season, plus his 10 postseason innings. But he stayed healthy throughout, missing just one start following a hit-by-pitch that caused a left calf contusion in August. Urías finished the year with a 2.96 ERA, which ranked seventh among qualified NL starters. He also became the NL’s first 20-game winner since Scherzer did so with the Nationals in 2016.
In each of Urías’ two NL Division Series appearances vs. the Giants -- one as a starter, one as the “bulk” pitcher when the Dodgers used an opener in Game 5 -- he allowed just one run, recording a combined 10 strikeouts and one walk in nine innings. His usage so far in the 2021 postseason has been reminiscent of his usage in the ‘20 postseason, when he bounced back and forth between starting and relieving to great effect for Los Angeles.
And, on Wednesday, Urías will go back to starting, this time not entering behind an opener. Opposing Urías will be the Braves’ bullpen.
As for L.A.’s bullpen, eight relievers were called upon after Walker Buehler’s exit with two outs in the fourth in Game 3. Evan Phillips provided the most length, throwing 34 pitches in 1 2/3 scoreless innings. While he won’t be available, no other reliever threw more than 17 pitches, meaning just about everyone else should be available after the off-day Monday.
“We stayed away from Blake [Treinen], Brusdar [Graterol], so we've got a couple of leverage guys that are fresh,” Roberts said. “So [the bullpen] not only helped us win [Tuesday's] game, but they [potentially] helped us win [Wednesday's] game too.”