Innings clock ticks louder for Dodgers' Julio Urias

LOS ANGELES -- Young, talented arms come with huge upsides but low inning counts, and once again the Los Angeles Dodgers are approaching a decision on usage with a rookie pitcher.

Julio Urias, the 19-year-old who has shown improvement in each of his four major league starts, will have to be assessed again by next week and could find himself on the shelf sometime soon.

Manager Dave Roberts said that Urias will start Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers and likely again next Wednesday against the Washington Nationals. Beyond that, the guarantees stop.

“You know what, as I understand it, he will make this one and then make the next one, and we’ll go from there,” Roberts said. “But where he’s at right now, we’re very encouraged.”

What happens at that point is not exactly clear. Roberts did say the Dodgers are not thinking about putting Urias on the plan that fellow rookie starter Ross Stripling is on. Stripling started the season with the Dodgers and is now shut down as the club tries to combat his rising innings total. Stripling is expected to start pitching again in Triple-A later this month.

Because both Urias and Stripling are young and have yet to build into major league innings counts, the club is taking the progress of both players slowly. An added reason for caution comes because Urias is not even 20, and Stripling is coming off Tommy John surgery two years ago.

Heading into Friday’s outing, Urias had 17 major league innings and 59 total innings this season counting his minor league work. He has never pitched more than 87 2/3 innings in a professional season.

Options aplenty remain for Urias after next Wednesday. The Dodgers could decide that he is progressing just fine and give him even more starts with the club.

They also could send Urias back down to the minor leagues, where they can control his innings better. He could make some four- and five-inning starts at Triple-A without the club having to consider the bullpen as much as they would have to if he was doing that sort of thing in the major leagues.

Another option is that Urias could start pitching in relief soon. Roberts insisted that Urias will not just go from major league starter one week to major league reliever the next. But he hinted at another way the club could handle that sort of transition.

“Anything’s possible, but right now I don’t see him going just from a starter right into the bullpen,” Roberts said before hesitating. “To our pen.”

That would seem to suggest that if the Dodgers are going to flip Urias into a reliever for the second half, he will first go back to Oklahoma City to grow accustomed to the process it takes to warm up quickly mid-game and enter into a developing situation. There also is the need to get familiar with pitching in relief on back-to-back days or even every other day.

Right now, though, the club is pleased with how the youngster has managed to grow accustomed to major league life in a little less than three full weeks.

“He’s just more comfortable being on a major league mound, being in the clubhouse, seeing scouting reports, and everything he does speaks to him being more comfortable,” Roberts said.

After being held to an 80- to 90-pitch limit per start, Roberts is ready to push Urias to a 90- to 100-pitch limit for Friday’s appearance. And if the left-hander can avoid stressful innings (25 pitches or more) and maybe even avoid a high-intensity, close-scoring game, more outings could be on the horizon.

The goal for the Dodgers is to bridge the available starts at the back end of the rotation until guys such as Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy return in early July. Roberts even talked about Frankie Montas as a possibility to get some starts, if necessary.

“When it gets close to that point [of shutting down Urias], I’m sure we will talk about it, but right now we’re just focused on Julio making these next couple of starts and we’ll see where we’re at,” Roberts said.