The Dodgers’ scrimmage Wednesday — their ninth of training camp — doubled as Dodger Stadium’s first dress rehearsal eight days before opening day. It was the first intrasquad game infused with artificial noise. Organist Dieter Ruehle and DJ Severe made their 2020 debuts. Public-address announcer Todd Leitz’s voice boomed for the first time.
It was about as real as an intrasquad game in an empty stadium can get in 2020.
On the the mound for the blue team, Julio Urías was preparing to check his own first off the list. Four years after making his debut as a prized 19-year-old prospect, this will be the first season Urías begins as a major league starter.
“Happy and motivated,” Urías said. “It actually gives me a little calm knowing that everything I’ve done, I’ve done it right.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts named the 23-year-old Urías a member of the club’s starting rotation a week into spring training in February. The revelation came early, over a month before opening day, signaling the Dodgers were committed to not only give Urías the chance but some clarity after succeeding in an unusual role designed to keep him healthy last season.
The league’s shutdown didn’t change the plan. Urías will still start games. The difference is his importance to the team’s success.
In February, David Price was slated as the club’s No. 3 starter, Walker Buehler was building up to start the season at 100% capacity, and Jimmy Nelson offered veteran insurance for the rotation.
Five months later, Price has decided not to play this season, Buehler won’t have the stamina to pitch deep into games early in the season, and Nelson underwent back surgery last week that will cost him the season. The succession comes after the Dodgers traded Kenta Maeda and lost Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill to free agency during the offseason.
Clayton Kershaw remains atop the rotation for opening day, but Roberts said he isn’t sure how the team will slot the rest of the rotation to begin the season. Kershaw, Alex Wood and Ross Stripling are the only starters expected to fully build up their stamina before the regular season.
Buehler logged one inning in a simulated game Sunday. He is scheduled to throw two innings in another simulated game before appearing in either a scrimmage or one of the Dodgers’ three exhibitions.
Roberts said he doesn’t anticipate Buehler pitching more than four innings in his first start of the season. Additional pitchers on the 30-man roster to start the season will help absorb the other innings.
Urías is further ahead. On Wednesday, the left-hander gave up one run and two hits in four innings. He is in line to make his next appearance in an exhibition game next week before the season starts.
From there, the Dodgers are poised to unleash him every five days without restrictions. The club readied him with careful handling last season, two years removed from major shoulder surgery that kept him off major league mounds for 16 months. Urías compiled eight spot starts but primarily served as a long reliever and was given ample rest between outings.
“Just for him to have the clarity to now go out there and execute pitches, I think is a good thing,” Roberts said. “But Julio’s got a good head and is very mature beyond his years ... We want him to take it start to start and see where it leads up.”
The Dodgers need it to lead to success more than anticipated. Every game will matter more in the truncated season and they will have fewer options than planned.
“If they give me the opportunity, it could be an important season for my career,” Urías said. “I’m prepared for this. This is what I’ve wanted.”
Roberts to join UCLA Hall of Fame
“It's a huge honor to be going in with eight other former Bruins,” Roberts said. “Obviously, that university, those sports teams have had so many great athletes, great men, women, so to be recognized is humbling. I'm excited for myself, my family. And it's something that nobody can take away.”
The rest of the class includes Keira Goerl (softball), Lauren Holiday (women’s soccer), Kevin Love (men’s basketball), Mike Powell (track & field), Noelle Quinn (women’s basketball), Tasha Schwikert (gymnastics), Russell Westbrook (men’s basketball), and Adam Wright (men’s water polo).
— UCLA Athletics (@UCLAAthletics) July 15, 2020