Julio Urías is fast becoming the ace the Dodgers need

The same Julio Urías, the same dominant weapon the Dodgers have watched emerge since last summer, toed the mound Tuesday night. He was electric again, continuing a year-long stretch in which he has become one of the best starting pitchers in the major leagues.

What was different Tuesday at Oracle Park, as he sliced through the San Francisco Giants for six innings before finding some bad luck in the seventh, was his place in the Dodgers’ plans.

Urias’ role for the postseason isn’t uncertain this time — not after the Dodgers failed to acquire a starting pitcher before Tuesday’s trade deadline. As it stands, he’s not a piece that will shift between the starting rotation and bullpen in October. He’s a bona fide starter. He just might be the club’s ace for the stretch run.

“He’s really important,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before Wednesday’s game in San Francisco. “Obviously, what he’s done and performed, and how he’s performed as a starting pitcher, the swing and miss, the length, the efficiency, the stuff. So, yeah, we’re counting on Julio, absolutely.”

Urías, 25, has converted his potential as a teenager to reality over the past 13 months, posting the lowest ERA in the majors since July 1 last year. The major injuries are behind him. He is one of the best players on the Dodgers’ roster. He supplied more evidence Wednesday.

The left-hander limited the Giants to four hits over six scoreless innings until he yielded three singles — two that didn’t leave the infield — to start the seventh.

He was visibly angry when Roberts emerged to pull him after 96 pitches with a 3-0 lead. He gave Roberts the ball without looking at him. He wanted a chance to escape. Roberts chose to play it safe. It was the right move: Evan Phillips slithered out of the jam with help from boneheaded Giants baserunning. When it was over, Urías’ ERA this season had dropped to 2.57, the fourth-best mark in the National League.

The Dodgers entered Wednesday with the best starter ERA (2.81) and the second-best starter FIP (3.49) in the majors. Their rotation doesn’t have a glaring hole a year after they lost Trevor Bauer to suspension and acquired Max Scherzer to replace him.

But there are questions about the current group.

Injuries have limited Andrew Heaney to five starts. Tony Gonsolin is showing cracks after an unforeseen All-Star first half. Tyler Anderson has never pitched in a playoff game. Clayton Kershaw has spent a month on the injured list because of a back injury after suffering a major elbow injury at the end of last season that nearly required Tommy John surgery.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws to first base after fielding a ball hit by Colorado Rockies’ Brendan Rodgers on Saturday in Denver.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

So, the front office would have preferred to trade for a frontline starting pitcher by the trade deadline to bolster the group. Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas and Pablo López headlined the options available. But the team found the market too expensive. Castillo went to the Seattle Mariners. Montas was sent to the New York Yankees. López stayed with the Miami Marlins.

On Tuesday, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman projected confidence in his pitching staff, pointing to the talent sitting on the injured list that should improve the bunch for the playoffs.

Walker Buehler, Dustin May, Brusdar Graterol, Blake Treinen, Victor González, Tommy Kahnle, and Danny Duffy are all pitchers the Dodgers believe have a chance of returning down the stretch.

“We have a really talented group that some combination of those guys coming back, and it’s really high end to add that quality to the guys we have in place right now,” Friedman said. “It just spoke to having a high bar. We feel really good about the potential of what our pitching staff can look in October.”

Roberts echoed Friedman on Wednesday.

“It’s collectively,” Roberts said. “It’s about the pitching staff. And when you’re talking about winning one game or 11 games in October, we just feel with the compilation of pitchers that we have we can prevent runs for 27 outs.”

May made his third start on rehabilitation assignment with triple-A Oklahoma City on Wednesday. The hard-throwing right-hander, who underwent Tommy John surgery last May, gave up one run and two hits with six strikeouts over four innings.

Buehler’s prognosis is far hazier. He just started throwing less than two weeks ago, six weeks after he was shut down because of a flexor tendon strain. There probably won’t be enough time to build him up for more than three or four innings before October. A relief role in the postseason is on the table.

“I think anything is possible,” Friedman said.

Buehler was given the ball in Game 1 in 2020 and again in 2021. It probably will be Urías’ turn in 2022 if he stays on track.

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