Julio Urias became the ace of the Dodgers

Julio Urias wasn't even an all-star this year.

Julio Urias wasn’t even an all-star this year.
photo: AP

The Dodgers have three All-Stars in their initial rotation this season, but their best arm wasn’t even part of the Midseason Classic.

Clayton Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson (injury replacement) were Los Angeles pitching reps, but they aren’t the best – or most valuable – pitchers for the Dodgers for the rest of the season.

That cloak belongs to Julio Urias.

After closing six innings Wednesday in a win over rivals Giants, Urias moved up to 11-6 in the year with an ERA of 2.57. He scored 109 as he walked 24, for an impressive 4.54 K / BB ratio that just got him out of the top 10 in all baseball.

Kershaw was one of the best pitchers of his generation, if not that. Since Friday, Gonsolin was worth 3.0 WAR so far this year, as he has pitched an ERA of 2.41 and is tied to Anderson for 12 team leader wins (although, as we know, the pitcher’s wins hardly tell the whole story). And not to forget the talented Walker Buehler and Dustin May, both in the IL.

But skipper Dave Roberts knows he can trust Urias, not them, in the biggest spots.

In October, there is no one on this list that Roberts would rather have out there in a prominent place. Urias has pitched in 53.2 innings post-season in his career, with 10 of those coming into the World Series. He was on the mound when Los Angeles took the 2020 World Series on the spokes and faced the last seven hitters of that game. He retired all seven of just 27 shots, eliminating four and taking the Dodgers’ first World Series title since 1988.

Despite being used in those high-leverage situations, his role should look different in 2022. The Dodgers will need more innings from him – the biggest innings. He should be out there in NLDS Game 1. He should be present in any elimination matches they may face. And if the Dodgers do the World Series, Urias must be present in Games 1, 4 and, if necessary, 7.

Kershaw left Thursday’s win against the Giants with a sore back, an injury that kept him sidelined for four weeks earlier this season. Friday, Kershaw participated the Buehler sidelined and May on the IL. This would leave the Dodgers with four starters. 24-year-old Ryan Pepiot filled admirably when he was called – an ERA of 2.76 in four starting points – but he didn’t make it past five innings when he caught the ball. He could be used as an opener for a bullpen match, which places an even greater burden on guys like Urias to continue being consistent.

Urias, however, should be up to the challenge. He has played at least five innings in all but two of his starts this season, and one of those made it to his first start of the year at Coors Field. Urias was very good at taking out the batters, but he was even better at getting them back on the balls in play.

Urias has a BABIP of just .245, which is fourth in all baseball and second in the National League behind Cy-Young favorite Sandy Alcantara (.244). Urias is in the 93rd percentile of pitchers in terms of the percentage of hard hits, meaning that when his opponents make contact with the ball, he usually isn’t hit hard, a good indication of why his BABIP is so low.

Another good indication is how dominant the Urias stuff is. The lefty uses three main throws (fastball, curveball, changeup) and occasionally sprays sinkers and cutters. His fastball rotation speed is in the 97th percentile, while his curveball is in the 94th percentile. Those are some of the best two shots in all of baseball and he uses them on 80 percent of his shots. No wonder he’s been so great this season.

Duration shouldn’t be a problem either. Last year, Urias broke its previous record of 79.2 innings pitched, finishing with 185.2 frames pitched in 32 games. This year he is at 115.2 – good for 21 starts as of Friday – and he is expected to get around that mark of 185 again. Thankfully, he has also avoided the IL this season.

Urias is fast becoming the ace of this team, the workhorse of this team and by far the most reliable starter.

If the Dodgers are to be successful in October, they will have to continue to rely on Urias consistency every five days. It is their key to another World Series race.