Walker Buehler, the Dodgers’ top starting pitcher, is slowly working his way back from mid-June surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow. Another lower-back injury sent Clayton Kershaw, the three-time National League Cy Award winner, to the injured list last week for the second time this season.
A team that is running away with the National League West title is down a pair of aces, but anyone worried the Dodgers might not have a starter worthy of taking the ball in Game 1 of a playoff series in October, fear not, manager Dave Roberts says. He’s got a guy.
Julio Urías continued to cement his status as the staff ace Tuesday night, giving up one earned run and five hits, striking out eight and walking none in seven innings of a 10-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins before 47,874 in Dodger Stadium.
“Julio was awesome,” Roberts said. “From the outset, he was in complete control. He had a good rhythm. From pitch one, he held his stuff — the breaking ball, the changeup, the fastball at the top of the zone, all over the strike zone. It's a good team over there, and he just kept them at bay all night long.”
The Dodgers extended their win streak to nine, improved to 31-5 since June 29 and are a major league-best 76-33 on the season.
Urías had pinpoint control of his 93.6-mph fastball, 81.5-mph curve and 86.5-mph changeup, throwing 72 of his 90 pitches for strikes. The left-hander improved to 12-6 with a 2.49 ERA in 22 starts this season and is 9-0 with a 2.16 ERA in his last 10 starts.
In five starts since a rocky five-run first inning in an 11-9 win over the Chicago Cubs on July 10, Urías is 5-0 with a 1.09 ERA, striking out 31 and walking two in 33 innings.
“Julio expects a lot himself, and I think there was just a point where he wanted to be looked at, you know, as the guy,” Roberts said. “And how do you do that? By going out there and performing.”
Urías starred in a hybrid role during the 2020 World Series run, going 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA and one save in six postseason games, two of them starts. He got the last nine outs of the NL Championship Series clinching win over Atlanta and the last seven outs of the World Series clinching win over Tampa Bay.
But Urías, who turns 26 on Friday, has earned the right to play a prominent rotation role this October.
“Every start the last two months has been very consistent,” Roberts said.
“There’s been a lot of conviction, and not to say that pitchers don’t want to pitch well every start, but he has not given himself any chance for any letdown. The velocity is up. He’s going from pitch one to pitch 100 with the same intensity.”
The Dodgers gave Urías a nice early cushion, scoring six runs in the first four innings, and all nine starters had a hit in a 15-hit attack that included a season-high-tying eight doubles.
They took a 1-0 lead in the first when Freddie Freeman drew a two-out walk and scored on Will Smith’s double to the gap in right-center field.
No. 7 hitter Gavin Lux singled to right with one out in the second, and newly acquired Joey Gallo, who struggled so much in a 140-game stint with the Yankees that he said he didn’t want to “show my face too much around” Manhattan, smoked a 112.3-mph double to right.
Cody Bellinger, who homered twice in Sunday’s win over San Diego, ripped a two-run double to right, and Trea Turner blooped a two-out RBI single to shallow center to make it 4-1.
Max Muncy hit a solo homer to right-center in the fourth for a 5-1 lead. The infielder added an RBI double in a two-run seventh and is batting .316 (12 for 38) with three homers, four doubles and eight RBIs in 10 games since July 28. Muncy hit .158 with a .612 OPS, nine homers and 31 RBIs in his first 79 games.
"It feels really good," Muncy said. "As I said the other day, it’s a little bit of a relief for me. All the work I’m putting in is finally paying off a little bit. But I’ve got to keep at it. I can’t think that I’m out of it yet. I’ve still got a lot of work to go. As far as tonight, just finally not missing pitches that I’ve been missing all year. That’s been the biggest thing."
Muncy was slowed for the first few months of the season by the left-elbow injury that knocked him out of the playoffs last October, but Roberts believes the slugger is finally rounding into form.
"He worked really hard to kind of weather the mindset, the mental grind of where he started the season and the injury part of it, so I think we're on the other side of it," Roberts said. "The consistent at-bat quality we're seeing, he's getting hits, he's driving runs in, and you can just see the confidence starting to ooze from him.
"When he gets going in the middle of our order, it's just tough to navigate, and you know, guys feed off Max. He's been around long enough that when he's going well, guys sort of feed off him."
Trea Turner drove in a run with a groundout in the fourth and added an RBI double in the eighth. Justin Turner, who doubled and singled in his first three at-bats after being activated off the injured list earlier Tuesday, hit an RBI groundout in the seventh. Smith had three hits, including an RBI double in the eighth.
The Dodgers also got encouraging news before Tuesday night’s game, with relievers Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen throwing two-inning simulated games, and in Oklahoma City, where Dustin May took the penultimate step in his 15-month rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery.
May gave up one run and three hits in five innings, striking out eight and walking one, in his fourth triple-A start. The right-hander threw 68 pitches, 45 for strikes, and all eight of his whiffs against Red Rock came on swinging strikes.
May, who hasn’t pitched in a big league game since tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in Milwaukee on May 1, 2021, will likely need only one more rehabilitation start before returning to the Dodgers.
Graterol, out since July 14 because of right shoulder inflammation, and Treinen, out since mid-April because of a shoulder injury, each threw about 20 pitches to hitters and will begin rehab assignments with Oklahoma City on Friday.
Graterol, whose fastball hit 101 mph Tuesday, is expected to make two or three minor league appearances before returning to the Dodgers. Treinen, whose last pitch was clocked at 98 mph, is expected to be activated Sept. 1.
Treinen was the team’s most valuable high-leverage reliever last year, going 6-5 with a 1.99 ERA in 72 games, striking out 85 and walking 25 in 721/3 innings.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.