Julio Urias’s journey back to a big league mound has been a long and enduring journey. With his recovery in the late stages of rehabilitation, the Dodgers will soon need to find a way to fit him back into their plans.
Julio Urias is on a path that not many big league pitchers been through. When he underwent anterior capsule surgery nearly a year ago, both the Dodgers and Urias knew it was going to be a long road back and a mysterious one. There are not many pitchers who have undergone capsule surgery although one of the success stories is on the Dodgers in Scott Alexander. Johan Santana is one pitcher who never made it back successfully.
Anterior capsule surgery is not a procedure with a long list of success like those who have undergone Tommy John surgery. The good thing for Julio is that he still has youth on his side. Urias is still only twenty-one years old and will turn twenty-two in August. When spring training rolls around in 2019, Urias will report to camp at an age that most prospects are barely about to make their big league debuts.
Next year the Dodgers will be able to let him work his way through camp as a starting pitcher. Not only will Urias have time on his side to build up his pitch count, but the Dodgers figure to lose a starting pitcher or two this off-season with Hyun-Jin Ryu becoming a free agent, and Clayton Kershaw has the ability to opt out although that appears to be a long shot now.
With the near future in mind, Julio Urias will begin throwing to hitters in the next week and his velocity has been clocked as high as 92 miles per hour in his bullpen sessions. The next step for Urias is throwing live bullpen sessions to some of the Dodgers’ hitters. At full health, Urias was clocked around 94-96 miles per hour so him being at 92 already is a very positive sign.
Once Urias gets into a big league game and has his adrenaline going he should be able to hit 94 mph with ease. For reference sake, Scott Alexander has been throwing 94-96 miles per hour recently so the surgery might not rob Urias of any velocity. Urias should be okay if he can hit 91-92 consistently given his offspeed pitches.
The only question once Urias is ready is how will the Dodgers use him? While it’s not wise to assume a fully healthy Dodgers rotation, the rotation when fully healthy has Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Walker Buehler, Kenta Maeda, and Ross Stripling. That is six starters already and it doesn’t include Hyun-Jin Ryu who should also be ready sometime in August. Dave Roberts has mentioned going with a six-man rotation temporarily, but it’s not going to be a long-term thing.
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The one place that Julio Urias will fit into perfectly is the bullpen. Not only does the bullpen eliminate the need for Urias to make several rehab starts and build up his pitch count, it also offers a place where the Dodgers can let him gradually work his way back into the big leagues. Even for a pitcher with the talent of Julio Urias, being away from the game for a full year is a long layoff. The bullpen will let Urias get his feet wet once again in the major leagues.
The other side to this is that the Dodgers bullpen needs help. Kenley Jansen is the only dominant reliever and while Daniel Hudson and Scott Alexander have been great lately, it’s yet to be seen if both pitchers can stay consistent down the stretch. Josh Fields, Pedro Baez, and Tony Cingrani are also on the disabled list and it’s unclear when any of them are coming back.
The Dodgers recently acquired Dylan Floro but he’s not an impact reliever. Unless the Dodgers acquire a reliever at the deadline, they are lacking another impact late innings reliever. Adding Urias to the bullpen would also allow the Dodgers to send Caleb Ferguson back to the bullpen to continue his development as a starting pitcher.
Ferguson has been rarely used out of the bullpen so why not add another arm and let Ferguson get ready to compete for a starting rotation spot next spring? Unless another starting pitcher or two go down, the only real path for Julio Urias to return is through the bullpen in 2018. This is the best way for the Dodgers to ease Urias back in, and avoid shuffling him between the bullpen and rotation, which could have been a factor in him getting hurt.