LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers find themselves in a unique spot with young pitching phenom Julio Urias, set to make his major league debut on Friday night against the Mets in New York. The club must strike a balance between continuing his development and the needs of the major league team, with the future of the 19-year-old pitcher considered along with the present.
"Julio is an extremely talented pitching prospect whose talent is a little bit ahead of his development," said Andrew Friedman, Dodgers president of baseball operations. "It isn't often that a guy's talent puts him in this position, well before he's built up appropriately to handle a major league starter's workload. It will require us to be creative not just this year, but next year as well."
Urias has essentially kicked down the door between the majors and minors, thanks to a sublime performance in Triple-A this season. The youngest player in the Pacific Coast League, Urias posted a 1.10 ERA in 41 innings, with 44 strikeouts and eight walks, and hasn't allowed a run in his last 27 frames.
Urias is also coming off a season that saw him only throw 80⅓ innings, putting an upper limit on his workload both in 2016 and 2017 in terms of how much he could increase.
"That is something that's paramount to us, to get him further along from an innings standpoint, and push the envelope with that, to put him in even better position going into next year," Friedman said. "It's going to be something we're constantly talking about and trying to figure out."
Friedman didn't elaborate on the exact innings limit this season on Urias, but one thing is certain. Urias will pitch out of the bullpen at some point in 2016.
"He's not a guy whether it's in Triple-A or the major leagues can make a start every fifth day through the balance of the year," Friedman said.
Friedman wouldn't commit to anything beyond Friday for Urias, not saying he would stay in the rotation or even confirming he would remain in the majors.
"We're going to assess where things are, and go from there. We haven't made any long-term determinations at this point. We have to be mindful of his workload this season," Friedman said. "You want to make sure he gets the range he wants, but you have to balance the 'right now' part of the season with potentially September as well, having as many capable arms as possible."
Whether Urias is in the Dodgers bullpen later in the season or relatively soon, Friedman said the current 13-pitcher roster construction helped in that regard.
"We've definitely talked about [Urias in relief] before this came up. It's tricky in that he's not in a position to be used like most relievers are in the sense that he doesn't have the experience of getting hot and then sitting back down, then getting hot and coming into the game, or pitching in a game and coming back the next day or with one day off," Friedman explained. "All this takes getting used to, so it makes it trickier. Going as we are now with an eight-man bullpen makes it easier."
But before we think about what happens after Friday for Urias, there is the little matter of his major league debut. Urias has been limited all throughout his time in the minors, never throwing more than six innings in any start. He has thrown between 77-82 pitches in five of his nine appearances this year, topping out at 82. His career high in pitches is 89, set in April 2015 with Double-A Tulsa.
Urias was pulled after just five innings and 61 pitches in his last start, last Friday for Oklahoma City. He will be on six days rest on Friday night. Friedman said that Urias's limit on Friday would be determined by pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and manager Dave Roberts.
"Doc and Honey are going to feel that out," Friedman said. "I think it's going to be a pretty normal start in terms of what young pitchers who come up to the major leagues, in that range."
Friedman cited the noticeable improvement in Urias this spring training compared to last, and anticipated the left-hander would pitch in the majors at some point earlier in the season, especially when by the end of the spring the Dodgers had several injuries that made the first half more likely from a need standpoint than in the second half.
Now, it's just about Urias taking the mound in New York and taking the next step, the first Dodgers teenage pitcher in 36 years.
"To a man, all of our guys who have worked with Julio rave about his mound presence and his ability to control his emotions," Friedman noted. "That growth year over year is something that our guys feel confident he'll be in a position to go out there and compete, and put us in a position to win a game.
"It's a great organizational moment. He's a Dodgers sign, developed through our system, and he'll debut in a Dodger uniform. That's a really special thing for a lot of different departments, and makes it a fun thing for everyone."