The 2022 Dodgers etched their place into club history Wednesday night by winning a franchise-record 107th game.
And, fittingly, they had perhaps their most important player — and certainly pitcher — on the mound to do it.
In a season that has been beset by injuries and near constant transition to the Dodgers pitching, Julio Urías continued to be the staff’s anchor, its ace, spinning six scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ 1-0 win over the San Diego Padres to cement his place atop the team’s rotation as the playoffs near.
Though Freddie Freeman’s RBI single in the top of the 10th and Tommy Kahnle’s save in the bottom half secured the Dodgers record-setting win, it was Urías’ performance that boded best for their prospects in the postseason.
Urías will next take the mound in the Dodgers’ penultimate regular-season game Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies. Notably, Clayton Kershaw will pitch the season finale the following day, according to manager Dave Roberts, lining Kershaw up behind Urías entering the playoffs.
To this point, Roberts has been reluctant to name Urías as the Dodgers’ Game 1 starter for the National League Division Series, which will begin on Oct. 11 at Dodger Stadium.
On Wednesday, he confirmed only that Urías and Kershaw would be the Games 1 and 2 starters in some order.
“We’re in a situation where I don’t think we can go wrong,” Roberts said. “We can move it around if we see fit.”
Soon enough, though, the Dodgers will have to pick.
And unless they decide to shake up the pitching order during their five-day break before the NLDS, it will be the 26-year-old left-hander with the NL’s best ERA throwing the first pitches of a championship-or-bust postseason.
“My total focus is on the next start against Colorado,” Urías said through an interpreter. “After that, we’ll have that conversation.”
On Wednesday, Urías certainly looked the part, scattering six singles and two walks while repeatedly working out of danger — including two-on, one-out jams in the first and second innings, and a runners-on-the-corner, one-out situation in the sixth.
The outing lowered his NL-leading ERA to 2.17.
It also provided one more confidence boost as the regular season winds down, with Urías proving again he has evolved into the kind of pitcher the Dodgers can surely trust in October.
“He’s earned it,” Roberts said. “And not even this year. Last year started that extending of the leash. But this year, [it’s been] the way he’s been efficient, the way he’s managed innings, the way he takes care of himself, prepares, all that stuff. And, obviously, performance.”
Indeed, after being limited to a hybrid role early in his career because of injuries and inconsistency, Urías began to blossom around the midpoint of last season. He simplified his mechanics by switching to a full-time stretch delivery. He unlocked more dependable command and life with his arsenal.
After posting a 1.71 ERA over his final 13 starts in 2021, becoming baseball’s only 20-game winner in the process, Urías has used another strong second half this season to vault himself into the Cy Young Award discussion.
In addition to holding the NL’s best ERA, he is second among the league’s qualified pitchers in wins (he remained 17-7) and batting-average against, third in walks and hits per inning, and eighth in strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Only his 18th-ranked total of 170 innings pitched is probably keeping him behind Cy Young favorite Sandy Alcantara of the Miami Marlins.
“I don’t really worry about the things that people say or the accolades or anything like that,” Urías said. “I just focus on doing my job.”
Still, Roberts says he feels as if Urías gets overlooked in the national conversation, reiterating what has become an oft-cited connection Wednesday between Urías’ overlooked status and the pitcher’s renewed intensity both during and between each game.
“I think, for me, there’s a little bit [of a feeling] that he’s been slighted by the industry,” Roberts said. “So I think there’s something in there, that competitor in you that wants to prove everyone wrong.”
The Dodgers, of course, haven’t always treated Urías like an ace.
Despite his strong finish last year, the team slotted him third in its postseason rotation and then toyed with his October usage, putting him behind an opener in Game 5 of the NLDS and then using him out of the bullpen in what was a disastrous relief outing in Game 2 of the NLCS.
Roberts said he doesn’t believe Urías was motivated by such decisions. Urías has never publicly raised it as an issue.
Still, it’s clear Urías will be asked to shoulder a much larger responsibility this postseason — one in which Roberts said the team had no plans of bringing him out of the bullpen or altering his role in the rotation.
Instead, they finally seem primed to treat Urías like a bona fide ace, and will very likely make him their Game 1 starter.
“I want to focus on finishing this season well, pitching another game and giving my best,” Urías said. “From there, we’ll see what happens.”
After sitting out almost two months because of an elbow injury, reliever Yency Almonte returned Wednesday with a scoreless eighth inning. Phil Bickford was put on the injured list because of shoulder fatigue in a corresponding move.
Justin Turner probably will be down for a few days because of swelling in his left lower leg. The issue originated during a doubleheader against the Arizona Diamondbacks last week and was aggravated on a slide during Tuesday’s game in San Diego.