Hernández: Julio Urías pitching at a level that matches his more established Dodgers counterparts

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SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 23: Julio Urias #7 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the bottom.
Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urías delivers during an 11-5 win over the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on Sunday. (Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)

This was what the wait was for, this was why the Dodgers treated him as if he were made of glass at certain stages of his career.

Julio Urías is only 24, but declarations about his talent don’t require the use of the future tense anymore.

The former uber-prospect is now an All-Star-caliber pitcher.

Urías pitched the Dodgers past the San Francisco Giants on Sunday, both in a sweep-sealing 11-5 victory at Oracle Park and in the National League West standings.

With a start in which he was perfect for five-plus innings, Urías improved to 7-1, his win total the most in the Dodgers’ decorated rotation and second-most in the entire NL.

His transition from prospective to legitimate frontline starter has allowed the Dodgers to thrive under particularly threatening circumstances. Already without Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers had Corey Seager go down with a broken hand last week and Mookie Betts miss their last two games with a sore shoulder.

And they have won 11 of their last 12 games.

“It speaks to the pitching, certainly,” manager Dave Roberts said.

The Mexican left-hander’s evolution has transformed the Big Three into the Big Four, Urías holding his own with the likes of Trevor Bauer, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler.

The pitcher who spent previous seasons yo-yoing between the rotation and bullpen has made 10 starts, tied for most on the team with Bauer and Kershaw.

He has pitched 62-1/3 innings, second on the team and only 2-1/3 fewer than Bauer.

His 70 strikeouts and 0.82 walks and hits per inning pitched are second-best on the Dodgers, his 3.03 ERA third-best.

“He understands that he’s an elite pitcher,” Roberts said. “When you look around at our starters, the bar is high, and he’s right there with those other guys.”

And on days like Sunday, perhaps even beyond them.

Urías limited the Giants to two runs and three hits over six innings. He struck out 10 and walked none.

But this was an instance in which the box score failed to convey Urías’ mastery of the Giants, who entered the weekend with the best record in baseball. By the time Urías was finished with them, they were in third place in their division.

His fastball approached 96 mph and was on point. His curveball and changeup were unhittable.

“He’s on the corners, it looked like, all night, or all day, whatever you want to say,” shortstop Gavin Lux said.

Urias didn’t allow any Giants to reach base through five innings, at which point his pitch count was at 56.

Asked if he knew he was pitching a perfect game, Urías replied, “Of course. Obviously, you realize it.”

But with one out in the sixth inning, Mike Tauchman was ruled to have checked his swing on a would-be third strike. Tauchman later hit a jam shot up the middle that Lux failed to field with his bare hand. Tauchman was credited with a single; Urías’ quest for immortality was over, or at least pushed back to another day.

Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías winds up against the San Francisco Giants on Sunday.
Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías winds up against the San Francisco Giants on Sunday. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Two batters later, Austin Slater hit a two-run home run.

“I think that was part of my frustration,” Urias said. “I feel his bat passed [the front edge of the plate]. If they called it, nothing would have happened.”

He settled for another win, this one moving the Dodgers into sole possession of second place. They remain one game behind the division-leading San Diego Padres.

Roberts praised Urías’ improved work in the weight room and bullpen sessions as well as how he carefully follows the action in games in which he doesn’t pitch.

“I think Clayton has a big influence on him,” Roberts said. “He watches everything Clayton does.”

Roberts said there was a time when Urías was like other young players who believe their talent will guarantee success.

Now, Roberts said, “He understands every little detail and how valuable everything is that leads into a start day. So, exponentially he's grown. Probably the biggest growth of anyone on our club, to be quite honest, in the last five years.”

Relayed what Roberts said about him watching Kershaw, Urías said, “He's the best example. I've always said since I reached the big leagues, I'm next to the best in recent years. It's incredible, how he works, how he focuses, what he does to compete every five days. Behind him is Buehler, behind him is Bauer. The three work in a way that's very good.

"For me, being in a long regular season and a starting pitcher like them, what else could I ask for? I have three tremendous teachers by me.”

If Urías continues pitching like this, he’ll be observed like that by the next wave of the Dodgers pitchers. That is, if he isn’t already.

Hernandez reported from Los Angeles.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.