Sunday, January 23 2022
San Francisco, CA - October 09: Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urias walks off the field during the second inning of game two in the 2021 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021 in San Francisco, CA. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias, who boasts a 20-3 regular-season record, will start in San Francisco in the NLDS deciding Game 5 on Thursday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Mookie Betts smiled as he searched for the right words to describe Julio Urias.

“Just seems like Julio has this weird but, like, old soul about him,” Betts said. “He just gets on the mound like he’s been there, he’s done it.”

Because the Dodgers left-hander has.

And this is the paradox of Urias.

He’s already six years into his major league career. He’s also only 25, which makes him the oldest 25-year-old in baseball.

He was a prospect forever, the conversations about him always about the future, the future, the future.

Tomorrow has finally come.

Assigned an adult’s workload for the first time, Urias came of age as a pitcher this season, starting 32 regular-season games, pitching 185 2/3 innings and becoming the sport’s first 20-game winner in five years.

On Thursday, the Mexican star will scale the mound at Oracle Park for the Dodgers in their most important game of the season, Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants.

“I don’t think we could have any more confidence in someone going than we do in Julio,” said right-hander Walker Buehler, who started Game 4 on Tuesday night.

No more innings limits. No more bouncing back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen. Urias can just pitch, like he always wanted to.

“It’s a season that’s been like a dream,” Urias said in Spanish before the Dodgers’ Game 4 victory.

Max Scherzer was 9-11 with a 4.12 earned-run average the year he turned 25. Justin Verlander was 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA at the same stage. Trevor Bauer was 12-8 with a 4.26 ERA.

Urias was 20-3 with a 2.96 ERA, numbers that would have made him a runaway winner of the Cy Young Award in an era before wins were devalued by sabermetricians.

His most recent loss was June 21. Since then, he’s won 12 consecutive decisions, including Saturday’s Game 2 of the NLDS against the Giants.

The breakout season followed a memorable postseason last year in which Urias was 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA in six games — two as a starter and four as a reliever. He pitched the last three innings of a win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series. He was also on the mound when the Dodgers won the World Series, as he registered the final seven outs of a Game 6 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

This is what the scouts envisioned when Urias pitched in the low-A level of the minors at 16 and high-A at 17. This is the future that felt like an inevitability when he broke into the majors at 19.

His physical gifts were extraordinary, but he was also unusually calm for a pitcher his age.

He speaks now with the same restraint he had as a teenager. His voice is never loud. He often looks down, his shoulders hunched over when he is seated at a table at a news conference.

After pitching a perfect inning against major league hitters in a spring training game, a then-17-year-old Urias was asked whether his father ever told him stories about compatriot Fernando Valenzuela.

“My grandfather did,” he replied.

Valenzuela cracked up when told of Urias’ words.

A year later, an 18-year-old Urias was in the Dodgers’ major league spring training camp full-time. He spoke about the benign mass in his left eye, which caused the orb to look as if it was closed.

“That’s how God works,” Urias said at the time. “He gave me a bad left eye but a good left arm.”

In the years since, he has credited a higher power when asked about the various workload restrictions that were designed to protect his arm.

“God’s timing is always perfect,” he liked to say.

Buehler, who is two years old than Urias, recalled how Urias beat him to the major leagues. Buehler recalled watching Urias alternate between starts and relief appearances in recent years.

“It’s been fun watching him go from last year — ‘Hey, we’re going to use you all the time and throw two or three innings’ — to this year getting a full year of ‘You’re going to make 30 starts and see what you can do,’” Buehler said.

Buehler is outwardly more brash than Urias but said the two have become close.

Betts spoke of Urias in terms that could also be used to describe Buehler.

“He’s got so much confidence in himself that it just kind of oozes out on everyone else,” Betts said. “He may not say a whole lot, but you can just kind of see it.”

Or as manager Dave Roberts said: “He wants to be the guy.”

He was in the regular season. He was in Game 2 of this series. And he could be again Thursday.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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