Julio Urias’ first MLB stint successful, but development must take priority

After Monday’s 7-5 win over the Orioles, Dave Roberts told the media that Julio Urias would be heading back to Triple-A. It isn’t terribly surprising, but it’s still a tad disappointing. But this is when his development needs to be the focus — not how he can help the MLB team come September.

Urias struggled against the powerful Oriole lineup, led by J.J. Hardy, of course, on Independence Day — 3 1/3 innings, six hits, five runs (all earned), two walks and three strikeouts. It was his worst start since his second one against the Cubs in Wrigley Field. Despite the struggles, there are still a ton of positives to take away from Urias’ first 36 1/3 innings in the majors.

He has a 3.58 FIP. That would be tied for 27th with Joe Ross and Carlos Martinez. His 3.76 xFIP would be right behind the John Lackey (3.74), who is 28th in baseball. His 10.4 percent swinging strike rate would be tied for 32nd in baseball with the likes of (future Dodger?) Matt MooreNate KarnsJon Lester and Robbie Ray (and just behind Chris Sale).

It may not sound all that impressive, but when you factor in that he’s 19 years old, it’s eye-popping.

Yes, he needs to work on his command. He was bitten by it in his first two starts before settling into a nice groove in games three through seven — 2.49 ERA, 10 BB, 34 K in 25 1/3 innings — which includes his 6-walk outing against the Brewers. He also needs to build stamina to be a starting pitcher, because that’s what he is. While his arm would be great to have out of the bullpen, that doesn’t help his development as a starting pitcher much. Oh, and the Dodger bullpen has rather incredible this season. And while the numbers won’t completely reflect it, it has been really good the last 30 days having to pick up the slack for the sub-6-inning starts that were routine in June.

But back to Urias. If the organization wasn’t going to use him in the majors as a starter, then sending him back to Triple-A was the right move. I’ve been critical of the org has handled his development since last year. It hasn’t done the best job with Jose De Leon and Ross Stripling this season, either. But Urias getting starters’ innings at Oklahoma City is much better than pitching once or twice a week in the majors for 1-2 innings.

There is an innings cap on Urias this season of anywhere from 100-120 innings. If you go by the Tom Verducci rule (30 percent increase from previous season), that would be around 105 inning. His career-high is 87 2/3 innings (2014 as a 17-year-old) and he’s already at 77 1/3 in 2016. That gives him, at best, about 43 more innings (if his cap is 120). That’s roughly 8-9 starts of 5-plus innings. The one thing the Dodgers cannot do is completely shut Urias down midway through the season only to have him ramp it back up for the end of the season and the chance to contribute to the MLB team out of the bullpen. That would not make sense.

When he missed two months last season and came back, he was not the same pitcher. In his first three outings (save a couple Arizona Rookie League outings), he had a 5.40 ERA, 13 strikeouts, nine walks and a 7 percent swinging strike rate in 15 innings. His next four outings were better, but he allowed more hits (23) than innings pitched (22) and averaged less than a strikeout per inning. He had two outings with OKC, including one that was the worst of his minor-league career (3 1/3 IP, 9 H, 6 R/ER, 2 BB, 3 K).

Having a kid shut things down for a month because of a team-imposed innings limit is the wrong move to make. The current development staff hasn’t shown it can successfully develop minor-league pitchers yet (granted, it has been only 18 months), and common sense kind of comes into play. Urias has been going full-bore since March. To have him shut things down for a month, only to have him build everything back up again doesn’t make sense. God willing, there won’t be a need for Urias in the majors come September. He should just get to whatever innings limit the organization deems is good for him and shut him down. His future is too important to this team to jeopardize by screwing with it.

It hasn’t been officially said this is what the front office is going to do, but temporary shutdowns does seem to be the way some organizations handle this situation. I’m not a fan of it, and I hope Gabe Kapler and Co., aren’t, either. But I’m skeptical.

Here’s to a solid rest of your 2016, Julio. Hopefully, we don’t see you again until 2017.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.