Julio Urías continues to prove he's one elite pitcher who is impossible to ignore
Dave Roberts doesn’t like the way that, in his view, Julio Urías gets overlooked as one of baseball’s best pitchers.
And though the 26-year-old left-hander might not acknowledge it, Roberts believes it has motivated his ever-astonishing — and increasingly Cy Young-caliber — 2022 campaign.
“His mentality is up there with some of the best that I’ve ever seen,” the Dodgers manager said. “To be quite honest, I think that Julio is using some of the lack of recognition as fuel. I think all players have some sense of what fuels them. And I believe this is part of his.”
However he has been perceived, Urías is becoming almost impossible to ignore, continuing a torrid two-month stretch on the mound with seven more strong innings Saturday night in the Dodgers’ 8-4 win over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park.
As the Dodgers lineup came to life against Padres starter Blake Snell and company — Freddie Freeman led the way with four hits and four RBIs, including a two-run homer, while Trea Turner tacked on a three-run double and Chris Taylor added an RBI single — Urías cruised through another confident, composed performance to help the team lower its magic number to clinch the National League West to four.
Urías completed seven innings for the fourth time this year, crossing the 150-inning threshold for the second consecutive season.
After a couple of walks helped the Padres load the bases in the first inning, he quickly settled down, finding a groove to retire 17 of his final 21 batters in an 83-pitch display.
He gave up a pair of Manny Machado solo home runs, but Urías barely yielded a well-struck ball to anyone else, finishing with as many strikeouts as hits surrendered (five each).
“He was outstanding,” Roberts said. “I’m having a hard time coming up with adjectives to describe him and what he’s done for us.”
The stats help paint the picture.
Urías maintained possession of the league lead in earned-run average, finishing with a 2.30 mark that continues to top his closest competitors: Miami’s Sandy Alcantara, Atlanta’s Max Fried and Arizona’s Zac Gallen.
Urías lowered opponents’ batting average to .197 and his WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) to 0.95, ranking second and third, respectively, among qualified NL pitchers.
He also earned his 16th win, matching teammate Tony Gonsolin and Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander for second most in the majors, trailing only Kyle Wright of the Braves.
Does Urías feel he deserves serious consideration in the Cy Young Award, for which Alcantara is the favorite but the rest of the field remains relatively open?
“I just try to go out there and do my job,” Urías said through an interpreter. “I can’t get too tied up or too focused on what’s going on, what discussions I’m in. I just go out there and do my job.”
Roberts was far less bashful about the pitcher who might headline the team’s rotation when the playoffs begin next month.
“It’s hard to ignore what this guy does for a championship-caliber ballclub,” Roberts said. “He wasn’t an All-Star this year for some ridiculous reason. So to be able to be in that Cy Young conversation, I think that’s the floor.”
Indeed, when Urías was passed over for this year’s All-Star game, it was considered one of the event’s biggest snubs — reminding Roberts of the pitcher’s seventh-place finish in last year’s Cy Young race even after he was baseball’s only 20-game winner.
“Last year,” Roberts said, “I thought he was slighted.”
That might not be a problem come award voting this year. After missing the All-Star team in mid-July, Urías has gone on the most dominant extended stretch of his seven years in the big leagues.
In his last 10 starts, he has given up just nine runs in 63 innings (a 1.29 ERA). He has struck out 58 batters while walking only 14. And he has benefited from a consistent uptick in fastball velocity, something pitching coach Mark Prior believes has better complemented his off-speed pitches.
“Most of the time, he kind of trends up toward the end of the season with his velo,” Prior said. “The delivery gets more in sync, the timing. He feels more comfortable letting it rip.”
The result has been a lot more of what Prior calls “oh crap” swings from opponents, leaving hitters “not sure where [each pitch] is going to break.”
That’s what happened against the Padres on Saturday.
And it’s what Roberts is confident will continue the rest of the year, with Urías continuing to escalate what is fast becoming a career-best season.
“He continues to get better and better each year, and each start,” Roberts said. “I believe he’s one of the top pitchers in all of baseball.”
The Dodgers placed Blake Treinen on the injured list Saturday with right shoulder tightness, sending the reliever back to the IL just two outings into his return from a partially torn shoulder capsule that forced him to miss four months this season.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.