The Dodgers had a 14-run lead through three innings Wednesday night, and the managerial wheels were spinning just about everywhere except inside their dugout.
With such a huge early cushion in an eventual 15-3 National League Championship Series Game 3 blowout of the Atlanta Braves in Globe Life Field, manager Dave Roberts seemed to have a big decision to make.
Should he pull starter Julio Urías after two innings and 51 pitches or three innings and 71 pitches to save the valuable swingman for a potential Game 7 relief appearance? Or should he let the 24-year-old left-hander continue, expending bullets in as low a leverage situation as can be found in baseball?
Roberts went the latter route. Urías threw a career-high 101 pitches in five innings, giving up one run and three hits, striking out five and walking two. Though he notched his third win this postseason, the heavy workload all but eliminated him from another appearance in the series.
But to Roberts, it wasn’t even a choice.
“No, no,” Roberts said, when asked if there was a conversation about pulling Urías early to save him for another NLCS game. “We wanted to get through this game. Obviously, it was a big margin, but for him to find his way and pitch well, I thought has a lot of value. I don’t think right now we’re worried about a Game 7.”
Urías threw three scoreless innings of relief in a playoff-opening 4-2 win over Milwaukee on Sept. 30 and five one-hit innings in a division series-clinching 12-3 win over San Diego on Oct. 8.
As big as those relief outings were, Roberts preferred giving as many of his short relievers Wednesday night off over saving Urías for a possible Game 7.
“I think that getting some other guys not pitching was important as well,” Roberts said. “So [Urías] will have a couple days off, and we’ll see where he’s at.”
Urías seemed to have a couple of days off between his pregame warmups and his first pitch Wednesday night. The Dodgers batted for 32 minutes in the top of the first, sending 14 hitters to the plate in an 11-run, seven-hit, three-homer barrage that sealed the outcome of the game before three outs were recorded.
“I was actually trying to stay hot,” Urías said through an interpreter. “I went into the cage and threw around some of the balls that were in there, and I tried to move around. It’s a little hard, but you could also say it’s a good thing. I’m not going to have a problem with what happened.”
Urías has taken the mound with leads before, but 11 runs, he had to admit, was “a little bit different. You have a cushion, but you have to stay focused, you have to fight, and I always try to give my 100%. Luckily, I was able to make it to the fifth inning and give the bullpen a little bit of a rest.”
It was a bumpy ride at times. Urías struggled to find his rhythm in the first. He opened with walks to Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman and needed 28 pitches to complete the inning.
Urías threw 23 more pitches in a one-two-three second, 13 in one at-bat to Johan Camargo, who fouled off seven two-strike pitches before looking at a 95-mph fastball for strike three.
Urías gave up a leadoff homer to Cristian Pache in a 20-pitch third but retired six of the last seven batters he faced over his final two innings, which required only 30 pitches.
“He was mixing it up pretty well,” Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy said. “He maybe didn’t have the best command of his pitches like he usually does. He’s usually able to spot everything he throws. That’s what makes him so good.
“He had to battle a little bit tonight, but he was able to get through it. He showed how tough of a competitor he is and the kind of stuff he has, that he can not necessarily have his best stuff and still find his way through it.”
The Dodgers handled Urías, who reached the big leagues as a 19-year-old in 2016 but was limited by major shoulder surgery to eight games in 2017 and 2018, with caution in 2019, pitching him mostly in relief and giving him ample rest between appearances.
He went 4-3 with a 2.49 ERA in 37 games, eight of them starts, striking out 85 and walking 27 in 79 2/3 innings.
But Urias solidified a rotation spot this shortened season, going 3-0 with a 3.27 in ERA in 11 games, 10 of them starts, striking out 45 and walking 18 in 55 innings.
Though he made two playoff relief appearances before Wednesday, his solid start against the Braves, in which he hit a triple-digit pitch count for only the second time in his career, may be an indication that the Dodgers are looking at Urías more as a starter than a reliever or swingman.
“The situations are just different,” Urías said, comparing his 2019 and 2020 roles. “It’s not easy to come in day by day with a different mentality of being a reliever or being a starter.
“You have to stay positive and go out there with a good attitude whether you’re gonna start or close or be in any other situation, and try to have fun and remember that feeling as a kid, that you love being out there, you love being able to pitch and just do your job.”
DiGiovanna reported from Los Angeles.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.