Julio Urias' steady rise has Dodgers excited for his future

LOS ANGELES -- The start to Julio Urias' promising major league career has been more hot-air balloon ride than rocket off a launching pad, not that the Dodgers are complaining as upward progression is what they were looking for, regardless of speed.

Five starts into his big league experience, Urias has been on a steady rise, and if there is one major thing learned about the 19-year-old left-hander it is that he has been every bit as advertised as a pitcher anointed the top prospect in the organization, and top prospect in all of baseball by some.

Some key takeaways from Urias' first 22 innings:

• Urias' 93-94-mph fastball is sneaky quick with plenty of life to get the job done, especially when played off his quality changeup, curveball and a developing slider.

• Considered a mature teenager, Urias already has shown the poise necessary for success, settling in quickly after rough starts at New York and Chicago to begin his career.

• Urias already is proficient at working all parts of the plate, while changing speeds adequately enough as well.

• Urias started developing his slider only last year in Double-A, and it was considered the lesser of his four-pitch mix, but it has been effective enough already to get out major league hitters.

• At the same age as college freshmen, Urias has been a quick study, using what he has learned from each start to help him with the next as he has only gotten better each time he has taken the mound.

Urias' career started with something of a disastrous outing in New York on May 27. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings against the Mets, swallowed up by the moment, and he reacted adversely to what he believed was a small strike zone. He gave up more combined hits and walks (nine) than outs recorded (eight).

On June 2 at Wrigley Field, modest signs of progress began when Urias kept the Dodgers in the game early despite some bad luck on broken-bat and bloop hits. It immediately got worse, as the left-hander gave up three home runs on the day. The six runs (five earned) by the Cubs are the most Urias has given up to date.

Urias’ first home start came June 7, a seven-strikeout outing in which he gave up only one run to the Colorado Rockies. He was less than efficient from the start, needing 86 pitches to get through four innings

Thrown back into the fire five days later, Urias faced the Giants on the road. Add the element of a nationally televised game, and Urias probably had to endure the three toughest National League road tests possible to open his career. He handled this one well, giving up just two runs and four hits in 5 1/3 innings, reaching the 86-pitch mark for the second consecutive outing.

In what was easily his best start to date, Urias held the Milwaukee Brewers in check in his second home start last Friday. He went five innings in the first scoreless outing of his career, striking out a season-high eight batters. His one walk matched his total from each of his past four starts.

Urias brings a 4.50 ERA into his sixth career start Wednesday against the Washington Nationals, down considerably from the 10.12 mark he had after his debut in New York. He has yet to record his first career win, although the Dodgers have finished off a victory in two of his past three outings.

“What he has done for me, and I think I can speak for others, is that it hasn’t surprised us at all,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Really, the stuff he has, the way he has carried himself, the way he has feel for pitching and handles the bat, handles the running game. If he executes pitches with his mix then he should get guys out.”

Urias also has shown that an issue with his left eye, which causes the eyelid to droop, has not been a problem either. It is believed that some teams shied away from signing Urias when the Dodgers did in 2012 because not enough was known about his eye.

Urias had surgery as a child to remove a benign tumor behind his left eye. Last year, he missed time to have cosmetic surgery on the eye.

“I never worried about his eye,” said Mike Brito, the longtime Dodgers scout who made it his mission to add the teenage Urias into the Dodgers fold. “A lot of scouts worried about his eye. I’ll tell you why not. Because the eye that is [affected] is his left eye. When he throws he uses his right eye, he doesn’t use the left one. And for a pitcher he’s a good hitter so it really is not an issue.”

That ability to take solid at-bats for a pitcher is a sign of the athleticism that has aided Urias in his quick adjustment to big league life.

So while "Uriasmania" has not taken off like "Fernando-mania" did when another Mexico native made his debut at 19, the Dodgers remain excited for the future. Fernando Valenzuela's career arc in the 1980s isn’t what the club needs to replicate, they want a pitcher who is effective long into the future.

“He hasn’t lit the world on fire, but he has really gotten better every start,” Roberts said. “So where he’s at as a 19-year-old young man, it’s no surprise. It’s very promising obviously.”