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Hernández: Dodgers’ frontline pitching woes could sabotage World Series aspirations

The manager wasn’t to blame this time. The front office wasn’t either.

Julio Urías pitched only 5 innings Sunday because of Julio Urías.

Urías limited the high-scoring New York Mets to one run, but his elevated pitch count forced the Dodgers to rely once again on their overworked bullpen, resulting in a 10-inning, 5-4 defeat.

Dropping the final two games of a four-game series against the Mets, the Dodgers went 2-5 on a homestand that marked the final stretch of a 30-day period in which they played 31 games.

The recent downturn notwithstanding, the Dodgers will be playing baseball in October.

They still have a two-game lead over the San Diego Padres in the National League West.

They still have the third-best record in baseball.

They still have the highest-scoring offense in the major leagues.

The question is whether they can survive three or four rounds of the postseason and win their second World Series in three seasons without Urías and Walker Buehler shouldering heavier workloads.

Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler walks off the field after being pulled in the third inning Saturday in a loss to the New York Mets.

(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

No one is expecting Urías or Buehler to be what Clayton Kershaw was in his prime. The game has changed.

Still, the last couple of days illustrated what can happen when frontline pitchers fail to pitch late into games when a team plays many games over a short period of time.

You know, like in the postseason.

Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson have been the team’s two best starters this season but neither is viewed as a potential innings eater.

Manager Dave Roberts was forced to deploy six relievers Saturday after Buehler pitched only 2innings in the shortest start of his career.

One of them was an out-of-sorts Brusdar Graterol, whom Roberts had to use again Sunday. Predictably, Graterol failed to protect the Dodgers’ 2-1 lead.

Urías acknowledged his role in the defeat.

He retired nine consecutive batters after serving up a solo home run to Starling Marte in the third inning, but the 30 pitches he threw in the second ensured he wouldn’t be on the mound for the seventh or the eighth.

If anything, it was a surprise that Roberts allowed him to return for the sixth inning to take on the Mets’ two most dangerous hitters, Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso. Lindor singled, Alonso popped up and Urías was replaced by Evan Phillips, who temporarily preserved the 2-1 advantage.

Urías departed to a standing ovation, but the gesture was more reflective of the home crowd’s generosity than it was of how he pitched.

“Obviously, I felt I was in there for too short a time,” Urías said in Spanish. “The bullpen had worked a lot in recent days and that was part of the frustration.”

New York's Starling Marte celebrates after hitting a solo home run against Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías.

New York’s Starling Marte, left, celebrates after crossing the plate on his solo home run against Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías on Sunday.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Urías is yet to pitch more than six innings in a game this season. Buehler is nearly a month removed from his last start of more than six innings.

Spring training was shortened to three weeks this year because the owners locked out the players. Asked if he was feeling any residual effect from that, Urías replied, “If it affected us, it affected us early in the season. We’re now pretty far removed from that.”

Urías said he couldn’t afford to continue walking batters the way he did against the Mets, in which he issued three free passes.

“They’re always bad, no?” he said.

While Roberts has thrived by adopting modern bullpen strategies, he said he would be more comfortable if his frontline pitchers could perform more like traditional frontline pitchers.

“You’re talking about longer series, you’re going down a different path where [you’re] taxing relievers too much,” Roberts said.

Roberts spoke of how the industry consensus is that there are few pitchers who can consistently succeed pitching a third time through an order.

He said part of why he allowed Urías to face Lindor and Alonso in the sixth inning was to give him experience pitching to the heart of a lineup for a third time.

“That’s our hope, that he is a guy that starts a playoff game and can go deep and feel good about managing a lineup a third time through,” Roberts said.

The team’s championship aspirations could depend on it.



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