In the instance that you happen to be living under a rock, the Dodgers are good right now. Very good. That has been the case for most of the season really, as evidenced by their MLB-best 77-33 record.
The bats have produced timely hits in key situations. The two out and two strike approach at the plate seems better than it’s ever been, at least to the eye test. On the pitching side, LA has done what it does best over the last few years… the front office found some guys you’ve never heard of and turned them into dominant forces out of the bullpen.
But, in baseball, everything starts with that day’s starting pitcher.
Heading into play on Thursday, the Dodgers starting rotation has been lights out. The staff ERA of 2.72 is nearly 50 points better than the next closest team in baseball (Astros at 3.19). And the guy leading the charge is Julio Urias.
Don’t look now, but the 25-year-old leads the team in starts, innings pitched, strikeouts, and ERA. All of which have seemingly come out of nowhere in some ways.
Over the first half of the season, all eyes have been on Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson, the unexpected stars (and All-Stars) of the Dodger rotation. But Julio has steadily been getting better as the season has gone on.
The rotation was the focus of a video package on MLB Network’s “MLB Central” show this week. Baseball insider and 16-year MLB veteran Mark DeRosa broke down the dominance of Julio Urias in the piece. The focus? That nasty fastball.
"They are primed to make another run towards a World Series title."@markdero7 analyzes the @Dodgers' dominance and October-ready roster following their 10-3 win last night.#MLBCentral | #Dodgers pic.twitter.com/kjAvmIMaKb
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) August 10, 2022
He has been absolutely dominant for this team and he doesn’t get enough love. How’s he doing it? Blowing heaters at the top of the zone right by guys. And there’s been a little bit of an uptick. He talked about changing his mechanics up a little bit and [his fastball velocity] is starting to tick up — he’s actually feeling friskier with it. He’s getting the heater at the top of the zone, he’s getting guys to swing outside of the zone and then he gets you fishing on that big breaking ball.
What DeRosa laid out really has been Julio 101 on the mound of late. Fastball, breaking ball down and in to right-handers. The changeup remains a weapon but the fastball and slurve are number one and number two in his arsenal.
Digging into the numbers from the MLB Network piece, Julio’s fastball velo has jumped from averaging 92.8 to 94 miles per hour over his last 5 starts. What was a concern for some at the start of the season — his velocity was down — may have just been a long play for the left-hander and the Dodger front office.
In 2021, Urias threw more innings than he ever had in his life. Between the regular season and postseason, he surpassed the 200 innings pitched mark. In the previous two seasons combined, he didn’t even reach 150 IP. So the mandate of start slow and ramp up as the season goes along makes sense, in theory.
Notably, with the uptick in fastball velocity, and the usage going up, batters are hitting significantly worse against Urias as the season has gone on.
Over his first 17 starts, the opponent average on his fastball was .187 with hitters slugging a modest .347. Since those small mechanical changes, those numbers have dropped to .155 and .224.
Alternatively, since being snubbed for an All-Star roster spot, Urias has been a man on a mission. 5 starts. 5-0 record. 33 innings, only 4 earned runs. 1.09 ERA, 1.81 FIP. 31 strikeouts against just 2 (!) walks.
Whatever it is for Julio at the moment, the Dodgers can only hope it continues through the postseason.
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