YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Young Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias impresses Fernando Valenzuela

Left-hander, 17, throws a perfect inning against San Diego, making a quick fan of his countryman and Dodgers great.

March 15, 2014|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Fernando Valenzuela, shown in 2013, liked what he saw in Julio Urias, a 17-year-old left-hander who pitched a perfect first inning for the Dodgers against the San Diego Padres on Saturday.
Fernando Valenzuela, shown in 2013, liked what he saw in Julio Urias, a 17-year-old… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

PHOENIX — Fernando Valenzuela smiled Saturday night as he recalled what he saw several hours earlier.

On the eve of the Dodgers' departure for Australia, 17-year-old Julio Urias became the story of the day by pitching a perfect first inning in the opening game of a doubleheader, a 5-4 victory over the San Diego Padres. Armed with a fastball clocked as high as 97 mph, Urias struck out two of the three batters he faced.

Because of his background, Urias figures to be compared to Valenzuela the way Clayton Kershaw has been compared to Sandy Koufax. Urias is a teenage prodigy from Mexico, as Valenzuela once was.

“It's hard to say we're the same,” Valenzuela said. “I don't even remember what I was like at that age. But I can tell you he's a gamer. He likes to pitch. That's the main thing. He likes the game, he likes to challenge the hitters.”

Urias is aware of the comparisons to Valenzuela. Even though he isn't old enough to have watched Valenzuela play, he calls him his favorite pitcher. Asked whether his father ever told him stories about Valenzuela, Urias replied, “My grandfather did.”

Valenzuela laughed when told of what Urias said.

Valenzuela said he particularly enjoyed how Urias pitched to leadoff hitter Will Venable. After falling behind in the count, 3-0, Urias fired three consecutive fastballs to strike him out.

“You know what I liked more than his fastball, curveball or changeup?” Valenzuela said. “The way he came back. He went behind in the count and he composed himself.”

That composure is what reminds scout Mike Brito of Valenzuela. Brito signed a teenage Valenzuela in 1981 and was part of the group of scouts who signed Urias in 2012. On the same trip to Mexico on which they landed Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers signed Urias and three other teenagers for a combined $1.8 million. Some other teams were said to be afraid to sign Urias because of a droopy eyelid that covers his left eye.

“He's the best pitching prospect I've ever signed,” Brito said of Urias, who throws considerably harder than Valenzuela ever did.

Urias pitched for Class-A Midland last season, when he was 2-0 with a 2.48 earned-run average in 18 starts. The Dodgers carefully monitored his workload, limiting him to 541/3 innings.

He is expected to start the upcoming season in High-A Rancho Cucamonga.

“My goal is to finish the season in the major leagues, if not in double A,” Urias said.

Manager Don Mattingly tried to calm the expectations.

“You can like him all you want, but you really need to let him grow up,” Mattingly said. “The expectation for a 17 year old is that he's going to get a lot better. Well, he has to get a lot better, right?”

Final tuneup

Kershaw sounded relieved his exhibition season was over. After facing the Chicago White Sox in the second game of the doubleheader, Kershaw said, “I'm glad these don't count.”

Kershaw was charged with five runs and eight hits over 52/3 innings. He threw 86 pitches, more than in any other start this spring.

The first of the two home runs he gave up wasn't his fault, as Joc Pederson misread a first-inning line drive hit his way, resulting in an inside-the-park home run by Adam Eaton. Kershaw also served up a three-run home run to Avisail Garcia in the sixth inning.

Kershaw finished the spring with a 9.20 earned-run average. His next start will be the Dodgers' regular-season opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia.

“Obviously, I don't want to have a nine ERA in the regular season, so I'm going to try to not have that,” he said.

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

Los Angeles Times Articles