Julio Urias has become the Dodgers’ ace

Julio Urias wasn't even an all-star this year.

Julio Urias wasn’t even an all-star this year.
photo: AP

The Dodgers have three All-Stars in their starting rotation this season, but their best arm wasn’t even part of the Midseason Classic.

Clayton Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin, and Tyler Anderson (injury replacement) were LA’s pitching reps, but they aren’t the best — or most valuable — hurlers for the Dodgers for the rest of the season.

That mantle belongs to Julio Urias.

Following six shutout innings Wednesday in a win over the rival Giants, Urias moved to 11-6 on the year with a 2.57 ERA. He’s struck out 109 while walking 24, for an impressive 4.54 K/BB ratio that has him just outside the top 10 in all of baseball.

Kershaw has been one of, if not, the best pitchers of his generation. As of Friday, Gonsolin was worth 3.0 WAR so far this year, as he’s pitched to a 2.41 ERA and is tied with Anderson for a team-leading 12 victories (though, as we know, pitcher wins hardly tell the whole story). And lest we forget the talented Walker Buehler and Dustin May, who are both on the IL.

But skipper Dave Roberts knows he can trust Urias — not them — in the biggest spots.

Come October, there’s no one on this roster that Roberts would rather have out there in a big spot. Urias has pitched in 53.2 career postseason innings, with 10 of those coming in the World Series. He was on the mound when LA clinched the 2020 World Series over the Rays, and faced the last seven batters of that game. He retired all seven on just 27 pitches, striking out four, and clinching the Dodgers’ first World Series title since 1988.

Despite being used in those high leverage situations then, his role should look different in 2022. The Dodgers will need more innings out of him — the biggest innings. He should be out there in Game 1 of the NLDS. He should be out there in any elimination games they may face. And if the Dodgers make the World Series, Urias needs to be out there in Games 1, 4, and, if necessary, 7.

Kershaw left Thursday’s win against the Giants with lower back pain — an injury that kept him sidelined for four weeks earlier this season. On Friday, Kershaw joined the sidelined Buehler and May on the IL. That would leave the Dodgers with four starters. Twenty-four-year-old Ryan Pepiot has filled in admirably when called upon — a 2.76 ERA in four spot starts — but hasn’t gone past five innings when he’s taken the ball. He may be used as an opener for a bullpen game, which puts an even greater burden on guys like Urias to continue to be consistent.

Urias, however, should be up to the challenge. He’s gone at least five innings in all but two of his starts this season, and one of those came in his first start of the year at Coors Field. Urias has been great at striking batters out, but he’s been even better at retiring them on balls in play.

Urias has a BABIP of just .245, which is fourth in all of baseball, and second in the National League behind Cy-Young favorite Sandy Alcantara (.244). Urias is in the 93rd percentile of pitchers in terms of his hard-hit rate, meaning when his opponents do make contact with the ball, it’s not usually hit strongly — a good indication of why his BABIP is so low.

Another good indication is how dominant Urias’ stuff is. The lefty uses three main pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup) and sprinkles in the occasional sinker and cutter. His fastball spin rate is in the 97th percentile, while his curveball is in the 94th. They’re some of the best two pitches in all of baseball, and he uses them on 80 percent of his throws. It’s no wonder he’s been so great this season.

Durability shouldn’t be an issue, either. Last year, Urias blew past his previous career-high 79.2 innings pitched, finishing with 185.2 frames thrown across 32 games. He’s at 115.2 this year — good for 21 starts as of Friday — and should hover around that 185 mark again. Thankfully, he’s also avoided the IL this season.

Urias is very quickly becoming the ace of this team, the workhorse of this team, and by far the most reliable starter.

If the Dodgers want to be successful come October, they’ll need to continue to rely on Urias’s consistency every fifth day. He’s their key to another World Series run.

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