Defeat — but also progress — for Julio Urias


By Jon Weisman

Julio Urias pitched longer. He pitched more efficiently.

Early on, he was victimized by three soft hits, a debatable ball four and an error.

And then he gave up two home runs.

And then he gave up a home run.

Urias’ five innings against the National League-leading Chicago Cubs today, in what became a 7-2 loss by the Dodgers, probably weren’t something to cut out for the scrapbook. Six runs (five earned) on eight hits and a walk rarely are.

But they absolutely looked like a step forward from his 2 2/3 innings at New York in his MLB debut six days ago, and offered a more concrete vision of the potential the 19-year-old presents.

“I felt good,” Urias told reporters after the game (via SportsNet LA). “My pitches were there. Overall I felt good, but those pitches I missed, those were the ones they were able to capitalize on. … Those pitches lacked control, and they connected on them.”

Against the Mets, Urias had four first-pitch strikes. Today at Wrigley Field, he had 19. Two of them went for hits — including Kris Bryant’s 110 mph, 436-foot blast off the giant scoreboard in left field in the fifth inning. But that means of the 23 batters he faced, Urias was ahead in the count on 17 of them.

Urias still had some trouble finishing off hitters, but early on, that was a function of luck. Dexter Fowler’s first-inning single was a blooper just beyond second baseman Chase Utley. Anthony Rizzo’s eight-pitch, leadoff walk in the second inning might easily have gotten a veteran pitcher a called strike three. Jorge Soler’s infield single that followed looked like it was hit with a mop.

Javier Baez drove in the first run of the game with a solid but undistinguished 82 mph single to center, and when Joc Pederson misplayed the hop, Soler was able to advance to third base and score an unearned run on Miguel Montero’s groundout.

Urias retired the next four batters on 14 pitches, giving him three innings with one earned run on 48 pitches. Already, that was a level better than how he performed in New York.

In the fourth inning, the Cubs began hitting Urias in earnest. After a modest single by Soler, Baez knocked one out 413 feet out of the park, at 105 mph, for a 4-0 Cubs lead.

And although Urias still had a low enough pitch count to entertain thoughts of going six innings, back-to-back homers by Jason Heyward and Bryant with one out in the fifth put that notion to bed. Still, Urias could take solace in getting Rizzo to ground out and striking out Soler, walking off the mound rather than being yanked.

“He left a few balls up, and they made him pay,” Dave Roberts said. “Julio is continuing to learn. I thought he threw the ball well early on.

“I thought the game was a lot slower for him. I think he might have been a bit frustrated by some of those flares, but I really believe that he handled himself well, with great composure and great mound presence.”

Facing the Cubs is a difficult assignment for anyone, let alone a teenager, and obviously some had misgivings about sending Urias out there at all. But now Urias has gone against the best, and knows what that means. It’s a loss in the scorebook, but likely a win for his future.

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