LOS ANGELES — It is back-to-school time for 19-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Julio Urias, as the club announced the young left-hander is going to begin learning the nuances of being a relief pitcher while at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
The move is far from a surprise. In fact, it had been expected, even when Urias arrived on the scene as a starting pitcher in late May. The only surprise to the start of the major leaguer’s career is that he actually got eight major league starts before the Dodgers moved into the second phase of the plan.
The club was always expected to protect Urias’ innings count at all costs. His high was the 87 2/3 innings he collected at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2014. He pitched 80 1/3 innings over three separate minor league levels last season.
Adding his minor league innings this year to his major league innings, Urias is at 77 1/3. And while the Dodgers have not revealed what Urias’ innings cap might be, it is more than conceivable that he could push just past 100 this year.
So instead of getting about five or six more starts out of Urias the rest of the way, the club has decided to explore the relief option as the best way to get value out of whatever innings remain. Urias still figures to start again at Oklahoma City this year, but those starts might have limited innings.
Even if successful, the relief move is not expected to be permanent, as Urias will undoubtedly be turned back into a starter next season, and he has a good chance of leaving spring training as a member of the major league rotation.
The biggest test for Urias in relief will be the preparation it will take to enter games. Warming up midgame, as opposed to settling into a standard routine while preparing for a start, is one obstacle. The other will be to get the sense of what it takes to pitch in relief on back-to-back days, although the Dodgers might not be inclined to challenge the youngster that way.
“I think it just only makes sense,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s something that he wants, and he feels comfortable. We as an organization knew [not] to put him in a situation where he hasn’t done it, and you’re sitting in a pen getting loose and getting hot quicker.”
How long Urias’ bullpen tutorial takes remains to be seen, but it is likely that he’ll return to the Dodgers at some point this season. And when he does, there figure to be more changes than just the fact that he is no longer starting.
On Aug. 12, Urias will no longer be a teenager. The novelty of being a teen in the major leagues will be gone, and perhaps a new Twitter handle will be in order. Urias’ current Twitter handle: @theteenager7.