Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw were in the house. Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser were on the mound throwing ceremonial first pitches.
This royal quartet accounted for 20 opening-day starts for the franchise with the proudest pitching tradition of any major league.
Then the game started on Thursday, and Julio Urías started for the first time on the opening day. One and done?
Urías is the heir to the legacy of Valenzuela, the torch bearer of a fan base that is majority Latino in a city that is majority Latino.
“The closest thing to Fernando is Julio Urías,” said Jaime Jarrín, the Dodgers’ recently retired Hall of Fame broadcaster. “No question.”
Urías is eligible for free agency after the season, like Shohei Ohtani. And while Ohtani could leave the Angels and politely say he prefers playing for a long-time favorite, the Dodgers are a long-time favorite.
What if Urias left the Dodgers?
“The reaction from the community would be really negative because they love him,” Jarrín said. “It would be bad if he left the Dodgers.”
Bad for who?
“For the team,” Jarrín said. “For the community. For him no, because while I’m sure he loves the Dodgers, business is business.
“And, you know, Scott Boras is his agent.”
Boras, who was at Dodger Stadium on Thursday, generally prefers his clients to let the market determine their value. He’ll no doubt conjure up some colorful metaphors to sell Urías, but the numbers speak for themselves.
Urías led the National League in earned run average last year. Last year he won 20 games. He will hit free agency at 27.
“This guy has an amazing career ahead of him,” Boras said. “He’s already had a very good career.”
When the San Diego Padres renewed Manny Machado’s contract, Urías became the brightest freehand prize not named Ohtani.
Aaron Nola is eligible for free agency, but he’s three years older and opens this season with twice as many innings as Urías.
The rest of the free agent pitching class includes the likes of Lucas Giolito, Sonny Gray and Blake Snell. From there it’s quite a hop to Urías.
If the Dodgers don’t sign Ohtani for $500 million or more — or even if they do — will they sign Urías for $200 million or more?
“In the free agent world, the Dodgers weren’t as aggressive as other teams with the players I represented,” Boras said, citing Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg as examples.
And of course, the Dodgers didn’t make the high bid to keep Corey Seager or Max Scherzer.
“They seemed to have backups at shortstop and with their pitching staff ready when they made those decisions,” Boras said. “When a team looks at that and says they have qualified replacements, it’s not uncommon for a team not to be as assertive in the free agent market.”
The Dodgers win. They trust their player development. They don’t deal with feelings.
There is no “must have” player here. There’s an “would like to sign” category, and that’s where Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman puts Urías.
“Julio has been a huge part of our success to date, and we look forward to him continuing to be a big part of what we achieve this year,” Friedman said Thursday. “Of course we’re all focused on 2023 right now, but we hope Julio wears Dodger Blue for many more years to come.”
The mariachi music before the game set the tone. With every starting pitcher, said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, there’s a tone.
“When Clayton hits, there’s an anticipation, there’s a bit of ‘on eggshell,’ there’s an intensity,” Roberts said. “When Julio serves, there’s that extra build-up of excitement, joy and fire.”
There was joy in the stadium on Thursday. In his first start on Opening Day, Urías gave up two runs in six innings to win the Dodgers’ 8-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“It’s an unforgettable experience,” Urías said after the game, “something like that with a team like this, the history that the team has and all the people that have done it before. It was just something very special for me and of course it’s a blessing to be able to send the fans home with the win.”
The defining memory of Urías’ career is the final blow of the Dodgers’ World Series Championship in 2020, the team’s first title in 32 years.
Still, he’s young enough that he could have played elsewhere long enough to be best remembered as a star for another team.
The Dodgers have a Mexican star to call their own, and Latino fans have a star to call their own, at least for another season. Nothing in life is guaranteed, including Urías starting another opener for the Dodgers.
Source : www.latimes.com