Giants manager Gabe Kapler envisioned nights like Saturday’s long ago, back when he was the Dodgers’ director of player development and a young promising left-hander was beginning to emerge in the club’s minor-league system.
Julio Urías, of course, was no stranger to anyone in the Giants dugout coming into Saturday’s Game 2 in the National League Division Series, not after the Dodgers left-hander made five starts against them during the regular season.
But Kapler’s history with Urías ran the deepest.
“You’re starting to see the guy that you sort of dreamed of,” Kapler said. “One of the better left-handed starters in baseball.”
Urías made good on that claim hours later, silencing the Giants lineup during a five-inning, one-run, five-strikeout start in the Dodgers’ 9-2 win at Oracle Park.
After stranding a two-out double in the first and yielding a sacrifice fly in the second, Urías settled down to protect the Dodgers’ early lead, retiring 12 of the final 13 batters he faced in an impressive 72-pitch start that ended when he was pinch-hit for during the Dodgers’ four-run rally in the sixth.
“It’s growth and experience,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “where Julio has really done a good job of focusing his energy into just making pitches.”
Saturday was the continuation of what has been Urías’ best season in the majors, one in which the 25-year-old capitalized upon his first stint as full-time member of the starting rotation over a full-length schedule by posting a 2.96 ERA and major league best 20 wins in 32 starts.
It’s been the type of campaign Kapler — who was his tenure as the Dodgers’ farm director from 2014 to 2017, coinciding with Urías’ most formative minor-league seasons and eventual MLB debut — always believed Urías was capable of, sending the second-year Giants manager down memory lane when asked about the pitcher during a pregame news conference on Saturday.
“I remember thinking about [Corey] Seager and Urías, these guys are both going to be excellent Major League players,” Kapler said. “At the time it was like, ‘Who is going to be the better Major Leaguer,’ knowing that they were both going to be great.”
Kapler said he thought shoulder injuries early in Urías’ career belied his true talent.
Urías pitched in just eight games between 2017 and 2018, then was a member of the Dodgers bullpen in 2019.
Over the last two years, however, Urías has cemented himself as a mainstay in the Dodgers rotation. And after Clayton Kershaw’s season-ending elbow injury at the end of the regular-season, his role in the playoff rotation became even more crucial too.
Urías didn’t give the Giants much to work with Saturday, cruising with a three-pitch mix of fastballs, curveballs and changeups.
Though the Giants made him work, fouling off plenty of pitches to drive up his pitch count, only four of the 14 balls they put in play were “hard hit” with an exit velocity above 95 mph.
“It felt good,” Urías said through an interpreter. “I thought the pitches were working well. It’s the sixth time I’ve seen them so it’s a little bit trickier to get through that lineup, but I felt good.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.