keyboard_arrow_uptop

The Thursday Takeaway
Statistically, you’re unlikely to be a nuclear physicist. There are certainly some of you that are nuclear physicists, but almost assuredly, the average reader of this columnist is unlikely to currently be a nuclear physicist. It’s substantially more likely, however, that there are many physics majors reading this. Yet, of course, a physics major doesn’t make one a nuclear physicist.

Pitching in a big-league rotation is like being a nuclear physicist. It requires years of training, involves incredible levels of sustained precision, and is done by only a select few. Being a professional pitcher, even a talented professional pitcher, is not the same as pitching in a big-league rotation. Some of the most ruthlessly effective pitchers in the world can’t pitch in a rotation. Craig Kimbrel. Andrew Miller. Kenley Jansen. Mark Melancon. None of them are starters.

Julio Urias is a starter. Only six of his professional appearances in the United States have been out of the bullpen. He is one of the most valued pitchers in the world due to his incredible skill imbued in his left arm and the fact that he’s only 19 years old. He is several years younger than some of the players who will be given millions of dollars in this summer’s draft.

Julio Urias is not a major-league starter.

At least not yet. In all likelihood, he will one day earn that title. But he has not yet, and that is through no fault of his own. As stated above, pitching in a big-league rotation requires incredible amounts of training and conditioning. Urias has been a professional pitcher since his mid-teenage years, but of course, he’s still a teenager. Before Urias debuted against the Mets, a teenager hadn’t started a big-league game since Felix Hernandez debuted in 2005. It wasn’t surprising to see him struggle. The Mets, for all their offensive hitches, have a good lineup from a pure talent perspective. It’s even less surprising that the Cubs touched him up for six runs (five earned) because, well, they’re the Cubs.

But it isn’t that Urias is being beaten because he’s been facing exceptionally good hitters. It’s that he’s pitching poorly. Pitches are being left where they’re not supposed to be, and when that happens in the bigs, those pitches get punished.

Urias hasn’t displayed the control needed to use his excellent stuff to get top-flight hitters out. He hasn’t thrown more than 90 innings in any season, and is on a strict limit for this year as well, playing level be damned. While it’s tempting to say that the limit is a frivolity that the Dodgers and their hopes of contention can ill afford, there is Urias’ health to be considered.

Because of his low workload, Urias almost assuredly wouldn’t be able to hold up to the demands of a full season. And because so many of his starts, until recently, only lasted a small handful of innings, Urias has almost been a glorified reliever over the course of his minor-league career. Urias is now being asked to handle the Chicago Cubs.

It’s unfair. It’s too much to ask, and too soon. Because the Dodgers lack depth and have already been hit with injuries, it’s fallen to the phenom to pick up the slack. The Dodgers, perhaps, didn’t think it would come to this so soon. But given their recent history of using a small army of starters every year, perhaps they should have had the foresight to start treating the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball like an actual starter. Urias has the raw stuff to get hitters out at this level, and to perform nuclear physics with his breaking ball. He lacks the training to do it in full.

It’s natural to want to conserve the bullets in a pitcher’s arm. There’s theoretically only so many that a pitcher can fire in his career. But Urias must learn to pitch in the manner he is now being expected to before he can be thrown to the likes of the Cubs.

Quick Hits from Thursday
It’s hard to lead a ballgame 12-2 and lose. But the Padres managed to do just that on Thursday. They carried that lead into the sixth inning, upon which they promptly surrendered five runs. Then the Mariners pushed nine across in the seventh, and Andy Green could only watch in resigned horror from the dugout. Seattle is the first team to complete a comeback of more than 10 runs since 2009. Involved in the rally was a slough of seeing-eye singles, botched defense, inherited runners leaking through a sieve, and Dae-Ho Lee turning the Western Metal Supply Company into a giant baseball mitt.

The Padres did mount a small attack in the bottom of the seventh by scoring a run of former Padre Nick Vincent, but then remembered that they’re the Padres and they shouldn’t be going around making serious efforts at winning ballgames. At least they have their trophy from winning the offseason a few years ago.

What’s more notable here is that the Mariners, with some help from the San Diego bullpen, came back from a 10-run deficit. The herculean effort, as unlikely as it was, would have been nothing but a pipe dream as recently as two years ago. Now, Seattle has a genuine offense, and they played last night without Leonys Martin and Ketel Marte.

The Mariners are for real.

***

Eduardo Nunez is, for the most part, known for two things. One: He is the former heir apparent to Derek Jeter, who you'll recall was run out of town by virtue of defensive ineptitude and an empty batting average. Two: He loses his batting helmet while running the bases. Nunez was the leadoff hitter for Minnesota on Thursday.

In the midst of an ugly season in Minneapolis, Nunez has been a surprising bright spot. He entered the game hitting .329/.356/.494 with five home runs under his belt. Here’s number six.

That’s a leadoff inside-the-park home run. Matt Moore served up a fat one and Nunez gave it a ride. One unfortunate bounce off Brandon Guyer’s glove and a misplaced batting helmet later, and the massive outfield made it easy for Nunez to sprint around the bags and bellyflop home. Nunez’s hot start to the season is quite surprising indeed, and it will be fun to see if he can keep it up. There’s very little change in his plate discipline numbers, and one expects him to regress to being, well, Eduardo Nunez. For now, though, let’s just enjoy his helmet constantly flying off.

***

The Astros strike out a lot. This is a fact and as fundamental to the fabric of the universe as Kris Bryant’s good looks and Mark Teixeira’s total lack of speed. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the tides come in and out, and the Astros strike out. This is the way of the world. Be at peace.

This is not to take away from Zack Greinke’s 11-K performance against Houston. Indeed, the Astros do swing and miss quite a bit, and Grienke exploited that. However what’s truly important here is that Greinke is starting to look like Greinke once again.

Notice that he’s still missing spots every now and then, but not badly, and the pitches that he’s missing with are falling out of the zone rather than into the middle of it. This is a marked improvement.

The opening of his season in the desert was filled with inconsistency and false starts. It was never going to last. Greinke is Greinke, and he is as dangerous a pitcher as there is in all of baseball. But with the Diamondbacks struggling in such spectacular fashion, including Shelby Miller’s total meltdown, it may have been hard for some to be optimistic about Greinke rebounding.

The rebound is here. When in doubt, remember that Greinke is a deadly pitching robot sent here to destroy us all.

Defensive Play of the Day
The scene: Aroldis Chapman has loaded the bases with no outs on two walks and a bunt single. J.D Martinez is coming to the plate, with Miguel Cabrera waiting behind him. The Yankees lead 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

They would escape with a win.

Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro converted a Martinez grounder into one of the most dazzling double plays you’ll see this year. Castro even managed to blow a bubble with his gum mid-turn. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

What to Watch on Friday
Are the Mets playing today? Yes. Is Noah Syndergaard pitching? Yes. You’ll be watching that game. It’s at 7:10 Eastern in Miami. If you’re in the area and have some free time, go to the game. Trust us, there will be tickets available. It’s Marlins Park. Go. Watch Thor. You won’t regret it.

If you’re not in Miami, wait until 8:05 Eastern. That’s when the Mariners and Rangers will begin a series in Arlington to duke it out for (likely temporary for whoever emerges victorious) first place in the AL West. Yu Darvish will go for Texas, and seeing as we’re only one game removed from having Yu withdrawal for a year and a half, it’ll do a body good to tune in.

And then for those of you who like your baseball with a side of exhaustion-induced delirium, stay up until 10:40 PM to watch the Rockies and Padres play at Petco Park. Put down your pitchforks, easy there. Why watch that game at that hour? Well, you see, the Padres just spent a few days depleting their pitching stocks, and while Drew Pomeranz has been excellent so far, if he gets knocked around… perhaps we’ll see Christian Bethancourt pitch again? This is what the Padres fan lives for these days.