WASHINGTON -- With his most recent major league start complete, major changes are ahead for Julio Urias, and it does not necessarily have to do with his Twitter account.
Known as @theteenager7 on the social media website, Urias will celebrate his 20th birthday in a little more than three weeks. By then, though, he figures to have an entirely new job description. Perhaps @thereliever7 is about to make its debut.
Urias already was in the midst of his conversion to the bullpen when he was summoned back to the Dodgers to make a start Thursday afternoon against the first-place team in the NL East, the Washington Nationals. He had just one inning and two bullpen sessions under his belt over the last 2½ weeks at Triple-A Oklahoma City, but he made this spot start count.
Urias covered four innings at the outset of the series finale, giving up just one run on five hits and helping the Dodgers beat Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals 6-3, although L.A. third baseman Justin Turner and his two home runs were a major component as well.
Manager Dave Roberts did not reveal a pitch limit for his young pitcher beforehand, but said afterward it was around 75 or 80. Urias finished the day with 77 pitches.
“This guy is a major league pitcher,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. “He belongs here and has proved that he belongs here. Gosh, it’s scary to think he’s 19 years old. What’s going to happen as he goes through the league and figures out ways to sequence his stuff and figures out ways to put guys away with two strikes? It’s going to be really scary what this guy is going to become.”
The Dodgers won’t say what will happen with Urias next, but judging by the fact that he was sent down two weeks ago to begin the conversion to reliever, it seems likely that project will resume.
Handled very carefully since making his major league debut on May 27, Urias has just one victory to his credit in nine career starts. His 4.69 ERA is not flashy, either.
But the young left-hander has shown flashes of brilliance, or to be more specific, of the types of things that are expected to make him a star at some point in the near future. He was adept at changing speeds in his short outing against the Nationals, a club that crushed four home runs just one day earlier.
Urias did not walk a batter in his four innings. Over the next three innings, five relievers managed to hand out four free passes.
“I think there’s a lot [to Urias] when you dig into the numbers,” Roberts said. “For me, more important than the numbers is how he’s handled the various situations, the pulse that he’s had in big spots on big stages and how he’s responded.
“This young man has really grown in the last few months. For me and the organization, it’s not even about the ERA. It’s about the experience he’s gained. He’s certainly part of the solution.”
The Dodgers did not make the learning curve easy. His road starts have come against the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers and now the Nationals, all teams that offer their own unique challenges.
The Dodgers are 2-3 in those games, but more importantly, Urias has advanced through the learning curve to the point that making a high-profile start is not the out-of-body experience it was in his debut against the Mets. That night, he walked four and gave up three runs on five hits in just 2 2/3 innings.
“Every outing has been different,” Urias said Thursday through an interpreter. “Maybe every outing had its struggles, but I’m trying to do my job and trying to get out of every situation.”
Thursday was the first time Urias has faced a team for the second time. He also took on the Nationals on June 22 at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers won both games. In those two outings, Urias gave up three runs on 11 hits over nine innings with 10 strikeouts and just one walk.
“When he gets out there on the mound, there is a presence about him,” Ellis said. “He attacks hitters, righties, lefties, both sides of the plate, breaking balls both sides and the split too. He has weapons; he’s not scared out there. It’s a guy that we, as a team, love seeing him challenge people.”
Urias gave up his only run in the first inning, but the Dodgers already had a lead on a two-run home run by Turner. That lead was increased to 6-1 by the third inning, with three of those additional runs coming on another home run by Turner. Both blasts were off Strasburg.
Before the game, Roberts talked of the Dodgers’ desire to dig in at the plate and play solid defense in support of their young teammate. Turner showed just how fit he is for the mentoring program.
“Julio is awesome,” Turner said. “He has a tough draw because he knows he’s on a pitch count, and everybody knows he’s on a pitch count, so just for him to go out there and battle and keep us in the game -- he gave us a chance to turn the ball over to our bullpen, which has been awesome all year. It was huge.”
Although the Dodgers still are weighing their options, it is likely that Urias’ next appearance in the big leagues will come in relief. Bring it on, he said.
“This is what I have been working for and that’s what I aimed toward every day, whether it’s a starting role or out of the bullpen,” Urias said. “Just focus and do my job.”