CHICAGO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers remained competitive against the National League’s best team this week, yet pitching decisions lie ahead for a club that managed to give the Chicago Cubs a fight because of its arms.
After three impressive starting pitching performances against the Cubs, the Dodgers watched 19-year-old Julio Urias battle through the early innings before succumbing to one of the better-hitting teams in baseball. Urias was tagged with three home runs, including back-to-back shots in his final inning of work, in a 7-2 defeat to the Cubs.
Alex Wood, Scott Kazmir and Mike Bolsinger all pitched well in this series, but the Dodgers won only one of the four games, and that was the game nobody predicted they would take since it was opposite Cubs ace Jake Arrieta.
Leave it to the Dodgers to figure out a way to end the Cubs' 23-game winning streak when Arrieta starts but lose the other three games of the series.
“We had a chance to split the series and, obviously, you win the game that Arrieta pitches,” manager Dave Roberts said.
What happens with Urias remains to be seen. He already pitched once only to be sent right back to Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers must decide if the same fate is ahead for their top prospect.
“We’re going to talk about that, but I think that we haven’t made that decision yet,” Roberts said. “After this I’ll get together with the guys and we’ll figure out what is best for us.”
While Urias had his issues in two starts, it could be decided that he deserves a home start at the very least. He was up against it in a high-profile Friday night start at New York against the Mets, and then at Wrigley Field with the Cubs looking to wrap up another series victory.
“Julio did fine -- he kept us in the game,” said Trayce Thompson, who hit his eighth home run and was quick to come to the defense of his young teammate. “It was just a big home run by [Jason] Heyward and another one by [Kris] Bryant.
“But yeah, our pitchers are doing everything they can to keep us in the game. We just have to pick it up offensively. No excuses, no reasons per se -- every man just has to do a little more.”
A little offense would have helped the Dodgers’ cause, but the Cubs are known for their pitching, too. The Dodgers saw the full Cubs package this week, yet they still feel like they could have done more.
“You win with starting pitching, and they’ve got it,” Roberts said. “On offense, there’s always traffic. Guys are getting on base and they can slug, so one through eight there is damage to be had. There is a confidence there, a swagger, and obviously those guys are playing hard for [manager] Joe [Maddon] and his staff.”
Urias did well to keep his head early despite being hit with a barrage of broken-bat singles, seeing-eye hits and flares into the outfield. Ultimately, though, the Cubs' power bats came alive. In addition to Heyward and Bryant, Javier Baez also hit a home run. Urias was pulled after five innings.
Everybody has to go through the learning process, and a 19-year-old, considered by many as baseball’s brightest upcoming star, is no exception. Urias is simply on his internship. He’s baking a cake for the first time. He’s the youngster getting his first crack at driving a car. Rarely is the first time what it will be in the future.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, each outing is an experience that you have to gain and control,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “You can have great stuff, but you have to control your tempo, your rhythm, just your thought process. It’s something you just have to go out and do.”
Yes, even Clayton Kershaw had to go through it, although he was a year older at 20. At the time he burst upon the scene in 2008, he was the fourth-youngest Dodgers pitcher to make his debut, at 20 years and 65 days.
In his first full month in the major leagues (June 2008), Kershaw walked 17 with 20 strikeouts and didn’t record a victory in five starts. His first victory didn’t come until his 12th career game, and even in that contest he walked four.
In other words, Urias is far from being a finished product. And the only way he gets there quickly is with game experience. Yet this being a win-now league and not a development league, plenty of options will need to be weighed.
“You see him, and I thought this year in [spring training] he was really starting to fill out and become a man,” Honeycutt said. “Just body-wise you see it, but he’s always had the right temperament. I remember even a couple of springs ago when we brought him over to throw a couple of innings, and it was no big deal for him.
“I think his mentality and makeup are definitely there to be a great pitcher, and now it just becomes a situation to get over that first hurdle of being out there competing at this level against guys he hasn’t seen before. It’s executing his pitches and not worrying about the outcome as much as just making quality pitches.”
It’s just a matter now of whether the Dodgers are seeing enough of the positives to keep handing Urias the ball. If he stays in the rotation, his next start likely would be Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies.
“Yes, I felt like my pitches were hitting the spots, and that's what I liked about this outing,” Urias said through an interpreter after facing the Cubs.
At the very least, his confidence remains intact, if that’s what the Dodgers needed to see before giving him another chance.