The velocity of his fastball was trending down. The opposing hitters were making some hard contact.
Julio Urías also hadn’t given up any runs.
His pitch count was still at 65.
And manager Dave Roberts removed him after six innings of a game in which the Dodgers were ahead by two runs.
Roberts can say whatever he wants. So can baseball operations president Andrew Friedman.
No longer can they conceal what they think of Urías.
They don’t trust him — at least not how they trust, say, Walker Buehler.
The Dodgers once championed the former teenage prodigy as a future franchise cornerstone, but they now use him as if he’s a fourth starter. Roberts has called him a superstar but treats him as if he’s the kind of overpriced and broken-down pitcher Friedman used to like to sign.
This doesn’t make any sense.
Last year, Urías became baseball’s first 20-game winner in five seasons. This year, the 25-year-old left-hander has recovered from a horrific season debut to post a 0.82 earned-run average over his last four starts.
The premature removal of Urías didn’t cost the Dodgers on Tuesday night, as they beat the San Francisco Giants 3-1 at Dodger Stadium.
But how the Dodgers used Urías was reminiscent of what they did with him last year against the same team in Game 5 of their National League Division Series. Instead of starting Urías, whose turn was up in the rotation, the Dodgers had him pitch out of the bullpen after a couple of relievers opened the game. They won the game but the front office’s exercise in vanity backfired in the long run, as it started a chain of catastrophic events that resulted in their elimination in the next round by a weaker Atlanta Braves team.
The Dodgers could once again receive a delayed punishment for their lack of faith in Urías.
Their rotation that isn’t nearly as top heavy as it was last year when Max Scherzer and Buehler were in front of him. The Dodgers are counting on Urías to be their No. 2 starter behind Buehler.
How is Urías expected to take on that role when the Dodgers won’t give him the chance to grow into it?
“I do believe he is that guy and we’re going to lean on him all summer,” Roberts said. “I didn’t feel right now was the time.”
Roberts pointed to how Urías and other pitchers had only a 3½-week camp to build up their arms because spring training was shortened by the lockout. Never mind that Urías delivered 81 pitches in his previous start and 75 in the one before that.
Urías threw 80% of his pitches for strikes and didn’t walk a single batter. But Roberts mentioned the number of hard-struck balls by the Giants, as well as where they were in the order to start the seventh inning.
Up first was Wilmer Flores, whom Urías struck out in his first two at-bats. Next was the left-handed-hitting Brandon Crawford, who was 0 for two with a strikeout.
As always, the ever-polite Urías said he respected management’s decision.
Asked if he was surprised to be taken out of the game, Urías replied in Spanish, “No. Obviously, it’s happened before.”
Would he have liked to stay in the game?
“Obviously,” he said. “Obviously.”
Urías continued, “The way I was attacking with my pitches, you want to keep fighting, keep fighting. But that was their plan and I have to respect it.”
With the victory over the Giants, Urías improved to 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA.
Dodgers management would almost certainly argue his numbers during the last couple of years reflect their smart usage of him, of how they have kept him out of harm’s way by limiting the times he faces a lineup for the third time.
But how can they be certain they are protecting him rather than preventing him from realizing his potential? They can’t be.
The guess here is that Urías’ agent, Scott Boras, doesn’t mind. Urías will be eligible for free agency after next season. The better preserved his arm, the more lucrative the contract he figures to be offered on the open market.
Urías can be the cornerstone of a rotation.
Unless the Dodgers change how they are using him, however, it will have to be with another team.