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Julio Urias shows poise beyond his years

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Rookie leads the majors in pickoffs in just 74 innings

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Los Angeles Dodgers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Julio Urias makes his final start of what has been an exciting major league debut regular season on Thursday night against the Padres, and the now-20-year-old left-hander has already made quite an impact.

He has a 3.53 ERA in his 17 games, including 14 starts, with 79 strikeouts and 29 walks in 74 innings. Among the 196 major league pitchers with at least 70 innings in 2016, Urias ranks 25th in FIP (3.22), 49th in strikeout rate (24.4%) and 62nd in ERA.

Not bad for his age-19 season, and first taste of the majors.

"There has been a pressure on this kid since day one that has been massive, and he has handled it wonderfully,” said Matt Herges, the Dodgers pitching coach in Triple-A Oklahoma City. "The reason there has been so much hype around Julio is not just because of his stuff, his left arm, the things he can do and how he can spin the ball. It is because he is so far beyond his years in terms of his maturity.”

Herges, who pitched for the Dodgers from 1999-2001, has been been a pitching coach in the organization for six years. He worked with Urias at three different minor league levels — Class-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2014, Double-A Tulsa in 2015, and Oklahoma City this season. Herges has noticed the improvement in the Dodgers’ prized left-hander.

"You can see the growth right in front of your face,” Herges said. “It's not like, three years from now he'll be this. He's essentially doing it on the run, and that's what is impressive.”

That improvement will likely land Urias on the Dodgers’ postseason roster, possibly as the Game 4 starter in the NLDS, though nothing has been finalized in that regard.

One of the growth areas for Urias has been holding runners. Before his initial call up in May, the left-hander picked off five runners in his last four Triple-A starts. Since joining the Dodgers, Urias has picked off six runners, more than any other major league pitcher.

Again, Urias has only pitched 74 innings in the big leagues.

"He doesn't just have one move, so you have to be on your toes,” said Rob Segedin, who played some first base with Urias on the mound with Oklahoma City this season.

The two different pickoff moves for Urias are his quick, snap throw and the one where he lifts his leg to start his delivery.

"He has always had a feel for it. His snap throw is off-the-charts good,” Herges said. “The only one I saw better was Dennys Reyes.”

The big improvement has come this year when Urias lifts his leg. Herges had Urias work with Oklahoma City coach Luis Matos, who had 250 stolen bases in parts of 11 seasons between the majors and minors. Matos noticed that every time Urias would pitch, he would start with a look toward first base, and when he would throw to first he would first look home, in a subconscious attempt to deceive the runner.

Urias eliminated the tell, giving him a devastating weapon.

"It's the best move I've ever seen," Segedin said. "You have to be ready. Sometimes the pickoff move is so good you can pick off your first baseman too.”

"The move with the leg is so good,” Herges said. “A lot of guys have to position their foot differently, they have to put weight distribution in different areas. He can pick and pitch, and it looks the same.”

The result has been 11 pickoffs between the majors and minors in his last 101 innings. It shows Urias has an ability to adjust on the fly.

"What he can process and put into play is off the charts. It's aptitude like you have never seen before,” Herges said. “He will adapt to the situation wherever he is. Once he gets comfortable, he's going to be really, really good.”

Game info

Dodgers (90-68) at Padres (68-90)

Time: 6:10 p.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA