LOS ANGELES -- Ahead of José Ureña’s Rockies debut at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, manager Bud Black said that the right-hander “sees himself as a starter,” despite starting off the year in the Brewers’ bullpen.
Ureña’s performance in the Rockies’ 2-1 loss to the Dodgers -- a spot start in place of the injured Antonio Senzatela -- suggested that he may just belong in that role.
“This guy, from what I've been told, he’s a fighter, he competes hard,” said Black. “You saw that tonight, with good stuff.”
Signed by the Marlins out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, Ureña, now 30, never managed to reach his ceiling as one of the team’s top prospects. He bounced between the rotation and the bullpen for Miami from 2015-20, and for Detroit in ’21. Milwaukee used him exclusively in relief prior to designating him for assignment on May 2, when roster sizes were reduced.
After he elected free agency, the Rockies signed Ureña to a Minor League contract on May 19. Though he said he was willing to work in whatever role they needed, the Rockies opted to send him to their training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., to build up as a starter -- something he didn’t get the chance to do in the spring due to signing with the Brewers so late in camp. There, he worked on his secondary pitches, including his slider and changeup, before heading to Triple-A Albuquerque, for whom he made five starts ahead of his Major League callup on Wednesday.
“It’s something that happens in baseball,” Ureña said of his season that has, to this point, lacked stability. “But you’ve got to keep your mind ready and do what you can do to try to keep aggressive and do your thing and try to take advantage every time you get an opportunity.”
He certainly made a strong first impression with Colorado, working 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball as part of an unexpected pitchers’ duel against the Dodgers’ Mitch White. After issuing three walks and needing 34 pitches to get through the first two innings, Ureña settled in nicely, managing to hold one of baseball’s top offenses quiet through six. He was throwing heat, with his sinker -- his primary pitch -- maxing out at 98.1 mph, and the average on each of his pitches notching a tick or two above his season averages.
“The middle innings, I thought he got stronger,” said Black. “Better command of the ball, better slider, better changeup.”
By the time the seventh came around, though, Ureña was starting to tire out a bit. Though a leadoff Justin Turner single was erased on a double play, Ureña proceeded to give up back-to-back singles to Cody Bellinger and Gavin Lux, bringing an end to his night. One hit batter and wild pitch from reliever Jake Bird later, and the game was tied.
Still, Ureña more than did his job. And with Senzatela likely out until after the All-Star break and Ryan Feltner on the Minor League injured list, Ureña will get another start, most likely on Monday against the Padres at home. Pitching at Coors Field will certainly be a good test for Ureña to try to follow up on his impressive performance in Los Angeles.
“[Ureña is] a nice piece to have in the rotation, if he continues to throw the ball like he did tonight,” said Black. “That was a good effort, for sure. You can't have enough starting pitching, especially in this day and age. So good for him that he got an opportunity and he made the most of it.”