Dodgers: Solving the Julio Urias Innings Limit Question

October 17, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urias (7) during workouts before game three of the NLCS at Dodgers Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
October 17, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urias (7) during workouts before game three of the NLCS at Dodgers Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

There has been criticism surrounding the Dodgers because of the way they have handled young phenom prospect, Julio Urias this season. Urias made his minor league debut on Monday, and to the surprise of Dodger fans, it didn’t go that well.

The Dodgers elected to send down Julio Urias to Triple-A Oklahoma City oppose to giving him a spot in the starting rotation in hopes of limiting his innings early in the season. Urias pitched for the first time since spring training and didn’t have the best of nights.

Julio Urias threw 79 pitches and only managed 3 ⅔ innings in his regular season debut. The young prospect struggled to throw strikes, only throwing 45 of his 79 pitches for strikes. In the eight batters Urias faced, he threw a first-pitch strike only once. The lack of command led to four walks and two runs.

It wasn’t that Urias got hit hard in his first start. He only allowed two hits and still struck out five. His lack of command could be due to his extended spring training workload and not having faced live hitting since the Dodgers started the regular season.

For Dodger fans, there’s no reason to be concerned about Urias’ opening start. It’s not a matter of if Urias will make the team, it’s a matter of when. Urias could have been rusty, and it was reported that he looked frustrated with a few of the umpire’s calls. Nonetheless, Dave Roberts still had a close eye on him, and it was reported that he called Urias following his first start.

When asked about a potential timeline for the young phenom, Roberts said he thinks Urias is “close.”

"“He’s close,” Roberts said. “I think we’ll try to pick our spots and use him accordingly, and when we do need him, he’ll be ready. But we’re not ready to say when that day will be. Some time at the end of the month makes sense.”"

That “Some time at the end of the month” is a little surprising to me. I was expecting Urias to make the jump at the end of May to pitch the last four months of the season. But I think it’s great news to hear that the highly touted lefty could be making his way to the big leagues sooner than later.

My stance from the beginning was to limit his workload early on. That meant extended spring training, where he could do weekly bullpens and face live hitters. But I didn’t want him in-game action until he was close. Apparently, now he’s close. It makes sense why the Dodgers want him to get a few starts under his belt before bringing him up. It appears their timeline is a lot sooner than we expected.

My concern with him pitching in Triple-A is that he will be wasting innings. The whole idea of Urias not pitching in the majors now is because they want to limit his innings. Last season he pitched 45 innings in the minor leagues, those were innings he could have contributed in the majors. Although he wasn’t as ready as he is now, just goes to show that innings could be eaten up in the minors.

I doubt the Dodgers will let him reach that mark this season. To me, it made sense to continue to work on his mechanics and velocity by going through spring training programs and holding off on starting his 2017 until the later months.

Starting his season in May would ask him to pitch through 6 months of the season. Be mindful that no matter when he arrives at the big leagues he will still have an innings limit. My guess would be around the 150-160 mark for the season. Now, Urias being called up earlier than I anticipated is not such a bad thing.

More from Dodgers Way

I have an idea that could stretch Urias’ innings through October and allow the Dodgers to continue to use his talents. And that is… Imposing a strict pitch count. While everyone around the MLB loves to focus on innings pitched for young prospects, the attention gets taken away from the number that affects their innings. The number of pitches thrown in said start.

Up until Monday, Urias never saw his pitch count rise past 75 pitches this spring. That is the exact philosophy the Dodgers should continue to impose on the 20-year-old lefty. Innings pitched is a stat that goes hand-in-hand with pitches per start. Except sometimes innings pitched don’t often show how hard a pitcher had to work. If you’d ask me I’d say pitch count indicates more of a pitchers performance than innings pitched.

If you hold Urias to a 75 pitch count per start, theoretically, Urias would likely never surpass more than six innings. If he does by some chance exceed six innings, Roberts can rest assured he’s not hurting his arm because he’s not even over 100 pitches. By holding Urias to a 75 pitch count, you are forcing him to be more efficient with his pitches in order to pitch deep in games. In theory, if Urias averages six innings per start that is equivalent to 25 starts (approx. 150 innings).

25 starts would have been third best on the team last season and by the looks of things early, may fall in that range this year. Even if he doesn’t have the high innings total, he would have the workload of starting every 5th game to help build his stamina. Granted, this isn’t accounting for injuries, but you can never account for those things. You expect them and adapt accordingly.

Granted, this isn’t accounting for injuries, but you can never account for those things. You expect them and adjust accordingly.

As the season progresses, the rotation will start to clear itself out. Then Roberts can make the decisions on when he wants to cut the leash on Urias. But for now, for Urias to be an asset for the Dodgers, seeing what he can produce in 75 pitches is a good way to get the best of both worlds.

Practice this method at least up until the All-Star break. If he proves durable enough to surpass six innings often, then consider raising the pitch count. But if Urias manages to stay floating around the six-inning mark, Roberts can feel confident knowing that he’s turning the ball over to one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Next: Defining the Bullpen Roles

Assuming Urias makes a start every 5th game after May and maximizing him to 6 innings per start would put Urias right around 60 innings by the All-Star break. That leaves just about 100 for the rest of the season and postseason. For the time being there’s no need for Urias in the rotation. So because of that, there is no urgency. However, I’m starting to think this Rich Hill blister is going to be something the Dodgers are going to have to continue to monitor all season long.  If indeed it is, Urias could be asked to do more than 150 innings.