January 23, 2022

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Julio Urías is ready for wherever the ride takes him

Julio Urías climbed into his matte purple muscle car with the neon green rims the night after etching his place in Dodgers lore and quickly realized life was different again.

He pulled out of Gate A at Dodger Stadium to a horde of fans. They surrounded his car with their phones out. Urías slowed down to a brief stop to absorb the love. He cracked a smile visible even with his mask sitting just below his nose and covering his mouth. The people chanted, “Julio! Julio! Julio!” before he drove away. He honked the horn in appreciation.

Urías raced off to an offseason unlike any other. The president of Mexico invited him to the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City. He met with the governor. The image of him howling at the sky after striking out the Tampa Bay Rays’ Willy Adames in Game 6 of the World Series, now a highlight played alongside Kirk Gibson limping around the bases and Orel Hershiser lifted above a mob of Dodgers, was played at every turn.

In one decade, he went from the boy with one good eye to teenage phenom to injury concern to suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy to World Series hero.

“I always think that things happen for a reason, and you have to think that way,” Urías said in Spanish in a recent phone interview. “The good or the bad, my mentality since I was born with this problem with my eye is I’ve always tried to look at the good with things.

“As bad as they might be, you always have to take away something good because that’s how you learn. Life is hard. Life isn’t easy.”

Believe it or not, Urías, five years after he made his highly anticipated major league debut, is just 24. He is, in some ways, still tapping into his potential. He provided a glimpse in October, bouncing between starter and shutdown reliever.

The left-hander closed out the Atlanta Braves with three perfect innings in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series to put the Dodgers in the World Series for the third time in four years. Then, nine days later, he was chosen to put the Rays away in Game 6. He responded with four strikeouts in 2⅓ perfect innings.

The fourth strikeout — Urías froze Adames with a 97-mph fastball — sealed the Dodgers’ first championship in 32 years.

“I never imagined that it would be me throwing the last strike, getting the out,” Urías said. “As a ballplayer, it’s always a dream. To have the opportunity to throw the last strike, to know that video is going to be there for my entire life, it makes me feel good.”

Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in Game 3 of the NLCS.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

As dominant as Urías was out of the bullpen, his future, at least in the immediate term, is as a starter. He’s projected to make the Dodgers’ starting rotation to begin the season, though the team will likely practice caution with him as the schedule leaps from 60 to 162 games.

In 2019, the Dodgers used Urías in a hybrid role, deploying him as a reliever for multiple innings every few days when he didn’t make a spot start.

Last year, Urías logged 55 innings in 11 appearances (10 starts) during the regular season. He pitched into the seventh inning just once, as he regularly encountered trouble in the first inning. To avoid the early rut, he decided to pitch exclusively out of the stretch. He then made two starts and four relief appearances in the playoffs. He threw between 2⅓ and five innings in every outing.

In all, Urías pitched 78 innings in 2020. He set his career high of 83⅓ innings in 2019, his first significant workload since undergoing major shoulder surgery in 2017.

“If he’s going out and he’s pitching well, I don’t see why we wouldn’t turn him loose maybe on a specific game,” Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior said. “But we’re still going to have to watch where he’s at from a workload standpoint because when you go back and you look at the timeline … there’s a lot of fragmented workloads that we have to account for.

“We can’t just turn him loose and say, ‘Here, try to go out and make 30 starts with 200 innings.’ I think that would be reckless in some respects.”

The Dodgers’ goal is to make sure Urías, and everyone else, is healthy for the postseason. The club expects to play deep into October. Once there, everyone will be unleashed. That includes Urías. He has proved he can shine on the biggest stages.

To commemorate his son’s feat, Carlos Urías decided to get a tattoo on his left arm of Julio celebrating his strikeout of Adames with the World Series trophy in the background.

Carlos Urías initially wasn’t a fan of tattoos. He was against Julio getting his first. But he wanted to memorialize his son’s accomplishment the best way he knew, with a trophy like all the trophies they won together as a coach-player tandem in youth leagues in Sinaloa.

The procedure took nine hours. If the Dodgers and his son repeat this year, he’ll need another nine hours for the other arm.