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    Swanson: Julio Urias reminds Dodgers why he’d be a wise long-term investment
    • March 31, 2023

    LOS ANGELES — Change the calendar, turn the page.

    After the playoff whimper that spoiled and soiled last season’s bang-up 111-win regular season, the Dodgers get a chance to get their lick back in 2023, to go about it in a different way – starting by handing the ball to Julio Urias.

    For the first time, the left-hander from Culiacán, Mexico, got the call to be the club’s Opening Day starter. Not Clayton Kershaw, who has thrown on Day 1 a franchise-record nine times, or Walker Buehler, who got that job last season but is out now after undergoing Tommy John surgery a second time.

    This is Urias’ year.

    In what he characterized as “an unforgettable experience,” the 26-year-old showcased his characteristic adaptability, getting the victory in the Dodgers’ 8-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday.

    After giving up a couple of runs early, Urias retired 12 consecutive batters (one of them with an assist from right fielder Mookie Betts) before giving way to reliever Phil Bickford in the seventh inning, the Dodgers’ hitters having run through three Diamondbacks pitchers and scored seven runs in the same span.

    Urias threw 57 of his 79 pitches for strikes, a quality start to what could be his final season with the Dodgers – if they whiff on keeping him.

    If they allow one of the best starters in the National League to walk. Balk at what it’ll cost to secure the Cy Young Award-caliber talent whose father, Carlos, has a tattoo on his left arm depicting Julio striking out Tampa Bay’s Willy Adames in 2020, delivering the Dodgers their first World Series title in 32 long years.

    If they let the most popular Mexican Dodger since Fernando Valenzuela – though his agent Scott Boras likens him to a modern-day Whitey Ford, because it’s that hard to hit him hard – take his talents to a second team.

    You’d like to think that Urias, a homegrown star, is a Dodger through and blue.

    Or that he could be.

    But we know he’ll be bringing the heat in free agency, his future set to be negotiated by Boras. And that the mega-agent will no doubt ask for the sun, the moon, the stars, all the fish in the sea, sand on the beach, plus a truckload of Dodger dogs and probably a prime parking spot too.

    Julio Urías MLB ranks last two seasons (’21-’22):

    2.57 ERA (3rd)
    0.99 WHIP (4th)
    3.41 FIP (13th)
    3.76 xFIP (22nd)
    3.65 SIERA (18th)
    .251 BABIP (2nd)
    21.1 Soft% (3rd)
    360.2 IP (13th)

    If Julio puts together another top 10 season this year, he’ll be a $200+ million man.

    — Doug McKain (@DMAC_LA) January 13, 2023

    “He’s certainly one of the top starting pitchers, if not the top one available in this market,” Boras said in something of a pitch an hour before one of his star clients threw his first pitch.

    “He may only be five or six guys in the last 20 years who you could say could be a free agent at 27. Age-wise, he’s probably a level above. And ability-wise and performance-wise, if you look at his performance since (2020), really he’s kind of moved ahead of almost everyone.

    “Talent-wise, market-wise, I would say, this is kind of an ideal player for them.”

    But there’s no guarantee the Dodgers are going to go in for the guy like that.

    After spending $296.6 million in payroll and taxes last season for a superteam that was ignobly excused, 3-1, in the National League Division Series by a San Diego Padres team with 22 fewer regular-season wins, the Dodgers eased off the pedal in the Brink’s truck they’d been wheeling around.

    They let shortstop Trea Turner and outfielder Cody Bellinger depart, as well as clubhouse leader Justin Turner. Also: pitchers Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney.

    But Boras is right: Urias is different.

    In honor of Julio Urías’ 25th birthday:

    A highlight reel of his 3 appearances in 2020 postseason elimination games.

    10.1 innings, 0.00 ERA, final out of the World Series.

    — Dodgers Archive (@DodgersArchive) August 12, 2021

    Since closing out the 2020 World Series, he came into 2023 with a record of 37-10 and a 2.57 ERA. Seventh in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2021, Urias was third last season – and he should have been second.

    Baseball’s only 20-game winner in 2021, he boasted a 2.16 ERA last year, becoming the first Mexican-born pitcher to claim the NL’s ERA title.

    And, by design but also circumstance, he’s got many seasons’ worth of strikes left in the tank. Seven years into his career, Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw had thrown 1,378-1/3 innings; Urias took the mound Thursday having hurled 599-2/3.

    Five days after his 16th birthday, they signed the phenom who had 10 eye surgeries by the age of 10 and who’d tell people, “God gave me a bad left eye and a good left arm.” Then baseball’s top pitching prospect, he made his big-league debut for the Dodgers in 2016 and that October became the youngest pitcher to start a major league postseason game.

    He weathered major shoulder surgery, a 20-game suspension for suspicion of domestic violence and came on to live up to those great expectations.

    All the while, the ball club, which is nothing if not meticulous, has made it a point to load manage the young man’s arm. Thinking of the future. And always of the postseason.

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    Early on, they used him in a hybrid role, as a starter and in relief, and they’ve never had him throw more than last season, when he worked 185-2/3 innings – 58-2/3 fewer than Sandy Alcantara, the Miami ace and last season’s unanimous Cy Young awardee.

    But for all that science-based, long-term planning, the Dodgers will have to invest more in Urias if they’re going to keep him around.

    They’re going to have to give him lots of dollars and years, even if they won’t give him as many pitches as he wants – though they should take note when reports arise like Bob Nightingale’s in USA Today, which indicated “friends close to Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias, frustrated by the pitch limits that the organization has set throughout his career, are convinced that he’ll depart as a free agent after the season.”

    I don’t know who those friends are, but I know who the Dodgers would be without Urias.

    They’d be a club that’s missing something. With a hole where the pitcher with the championship arm and mettle once was. An unfortunate void without the guy whom fans have so long been so invested in.

    They’d be missing their now and future ace, their Day 1 starter.

    Julio Urias after giving up just two runs, four hits and striking out six in six innings in his first Opening Day (Night) start: “To send the fans home with a victory was a blessing. Truly a blessing.”

    — Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) March 31, 2023

    ​ Orange County Register