Julio Urías opened his 2021 campaign on April 4 with a one-run, seven-inning gem at Coors Field that was arguably the best start of his career. On Tuesday at T-Mobile Park, just three starts later, Urías managed to outdo himself.
Facing the Mariners, Urías was in top form, striking out a career-high 11 batters while working seven scoreless frames in a 1-0 Dodgers victory. It was the most strikeouts by a Dodgers starter so far this season, and it surpassed his previous personal high of nine, achieved on April 18, 2019, in Milwaukee. Those seven innings tied his season debut for the longest outing of his career.
“I just can't recall any better [start], from the first pitch to the last pitch,” manager Dave Roberts said of Urías. “Efficiency, command of all three pitches, getting ahead of hitters. He had complete control of command today.”
An exceptionally sharp Urías allowed only two baserunners: a walk to Kyle Lewis, the second batter he faced, and an infield single to Mitch Haniger in the third. The left-hander was efficient, too, throwing 88 pitches, 68 for strikes.
Urías credited his success to some “minor adjustments to the mechanics” he made following his previous start.
“[I’ve been] working on the curveball,” Urías said through an interpreter. “Those are the things that I focused on, and those things I feel like I cleaned up to have the performance I did with the curveball.”
The payoff was noticeable, as nine of Urías’ season-high 17 swings and misses came on his sweeping curve. As Roberts put it, that breaking ball -- which is more of a slider-curveball combination, or “slurve” -- was “the story.”
“They're moving different,” catcher Austin Barnes said of Urías’ breaking pitches. “That’s not a normal pitch to me. I haven’t seen a curveball kind of thrown like that. It’s coming out way on the side, and he's landing it at a really high rate, and it does different things all the time. Sometimes it shoots this way, shoots down. It's a hard pitch for them to get their sights on. It was working today.”
Once the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, Urías is inching closer to living up to the expectations set for him ahead of his first Major League callup in August 2016, when he was just 19. Left shoulder surgery in ‘17 impeded his journey, after which he spent time bouncing between the Majors and the Minors -- and between the bullpen and the rotation -- needing time to work himself back into shape. That swing role continued through last postseason, but it peaked with him closing out the World Series in Game 6 with four strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings.
It has taken a while for Urías to reach a place where health and opportunity intersect, but in 2021, the 24-year-old has established himself as an effective, reliable starter. His first double-digit-strikeout outing is a significant milestone in that journey.
While it’s an achievement worth appreciating, Urías prefers to look at it as something he can build off.
“During the game, you don't really focus on that type of stuff,” Urías said. “You don't really know what's happening; you're just trying to focus, pitch to pitch, sequence to sequence. Obviously, when the game's finished, you have a better understanding of what you accomplished. And then, you begin to get back to work, get back to focusing on getting your pitches ready for the next start and doing the best you can for when that next start comes.”
The Dodgers needed every bit of Urías’ effort, as their offense’s recent slump extended into yet another game. They managed only one run on two hits and four walks. In its last four games, Los Angeles has totaled eight runs.
“Yeah, we needed all those outs,” Roberts said. “Going into this series against the Padres, getting our guys rested with the day off tomorrow just gets things back in line. You win with starting pitching, and Julio really reset things and set the tone today for all of us.”