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Column: Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías is calmer and more confident for 2022

Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías warms up during a spring training workout on Sunday in Phoenix.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Dave Roberts did a double take when he saw the player with the locker closest to the showers.

The haircut looked familiar. The body didn’t.

The player was Julio Urías.

“New player,” Urías later joked in Spanish.

Unlike many other players who reported to spring training over the weekend, the Dodgers left-hander didn’t boast about how he was in the best shape of his life.

He didn’t have to.

He is noticeably leaner.

“He looked fantastic,” Roberts said.

Urías, who is listed at 6 feet, said he weighs 223 pounds. That’s almost 20 pounds less than what he was at the end of last season.

“I always come to spring training lighter,” he said. “I don’t know. I’ve lost more weight in the past.”

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Urías, who last season became the National League’s first 20-game winner in five years, suggested his striking change in his appearance could simply be a result of physical maturity.

As the Dodgers gathered on the field for the start of camp, the status of free-agent first baseman Freddie Freeman took center stage.

He’s probably right.

Urías is still only 25, which is easy to forget considering he’s now in his eighth major league spring training camp with the Dodgers.

He’s become a man, and not just physically.

Speaking outside of the Dodgers’ clubhouse on Monday, Urías spoke with greater confidence.

He maintained the respectful disposition that made him a likable teenager but revealed a more playful side.

He laughed often, even as he defended the Dodgers’ decision makers for how they misused him in the playoffs last year.

“I’m calmer now,” he said.

The confidence was gained in a breakout season last year.

His usage limited by a protective front office in previous seasons, Urías made 32 starts and pitched 1852/3 innings. Both figures more than doubled his previous career highs.

He finished the regular season with a 20-3 record and 2.96 earned-run average.

“To win 20 games, it’s an achievement that makes you think, ‘I can do it, I can compete with the greats,’” Urías said.

As well as he pitched, he wouldn’t concede this proved the Dodgers were right to have limited his innings in previous years.

“I can’t say it was good or bad,” he said. “I’m simply enjoying where I am right now.”

Switching to English, he added, “Enjoy the moment, you know?”

Dodgers pitchers Julio Urías, left, and Victor Gonzalez warm up during a spring training workout on Sunday in Phoenix.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

His place on the team secure, he can now focus on sharpening his breaking balls instead of winning a spot in the rotation.

“In past years, I remember how I used to try to make an impression in my first bullpen and make people say, ‘Wow,’” Urías said. “Now, I want to impress them, but in a different way, with my physical condition. They know I have a good arm. They know I can pitch.”

Instead of returning to his native Mexico in the offseason, Urías remained in the Phoenix area over the winter.

“I was just eating better,” Urías said. “Obviously, trying to leave behind the temptations — the candies, the Coca-Cola, which are very good, honestly.”

He said he was motivated not only by his individual success last season but also his team’s collective failure.

“To watch the other team win is really painful,” Urías said.

The Dodgers were eliminated in the National League Championship Series by the Atlanta Braves, who went on to win the World Series.

The defeat could be traced back to a decision the front office made in the NL Division Series to not start Urías in a winner-take-all Game 5 against the San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers used Corey Knebel as an opener and Brusdar Graterol in the second inning. Urías pitched the next four innings. The since-departed Max Scherzer pitched the ninth inning of a 2-1 victory.

“Maybe you could feel offended, right?” Urías said. “At the same time, what I want to do is win. I’ve told the coaches, I’ve told the manager, to me it doesn’t matter if I’m the main guy. I don’t need people to say, ‘We won because of Julio.’ I just want to help, even if it’s for just one out. I knew that I deserved to start against San Francisco, but [to fight that] is not something that’s in me. It was the plan of the team, I’m behind the team, and thanks to God, we were able to advance.”

But the Dodgers were the better team. They had a 20-game winner in Urías. They could have played the game normally and still advanced.

Dodgers pitchers Julio Urías, left, and Caleb Ferguson talk during a spring training workout on Sunday in Phoenix.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

“It’s complicated,” Urías said. “The truth is it’s difficult to understand it. I won’t lie to you. It’s difficult to accept it. When the manager tells you, ‘Hey, we have this plan,’ your first thought is, like, ‘Argh.’”

Did he ever wonder why he was asked to do something he hadn’t done all season and Scherzer and Walker Buehler weren’t?

“I don’t want to speak for them, but I know they feel good doing what they do,” he said. “I know that if they ask Walker, Walker would say, ‘I don’t want to pitch in relief.’ But I know I can do it.”

Urías pointed to how he was successfully deployed as a reliever when the Dodgers won the World Series in 2020.

“I feel comfortable doing both,” Urías said. “That’s what I can tell them, ‘Yes, I can.’ If I already have three or four years of being a starter and I haven’t pitched out of the bullpen in four years, and they ask me, I would say, ‘I can’t.’”

The pitching experiment won Dodgers the game but cost them their season. Scherzer couldn’t start in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Braves and was ineffective in Game 2.

Urías’ relatively light workload in Game 5 of the NLDS convinced the Dodgers he could pitch in relief in Game 2 of the NLCS. He blew a two-run lead in the eighth inning and the Dodgers went on to lose the game.

Urías didn’t recover from the relief appearance and was crushed in a Game 4 defeat. The Dodgers were eliminated in Game 6, which Buehler started on short rest because Scherzer couldn’t take the mound.

Former Olympic softball player and ESPN broadcaster Jessica Mendoza joins a reconfigured Dodgers TV and radio coverage team for the 2022 season.

“There we can say it was a mistake, maybe,” Urías said. “But the past is the past.”

Urías sounded as if he was holding back laughter.

If the Dodgers want to do something similar this year, would he try to talk them out of it?

“I can’t say that right now because we’re not in the playoffs,” he said. “When we get to the playoffs, I can tell you.”

Urías smiled, but he wasn’t about to throw the front office under the bus.

Of course he wouldn’t.

He’s too mature for that.


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