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PEORIA, Ariz. — When Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías committed to play for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic back in September, he knew wearing his country’s uniform would be one of the most special moments of his career.
But after experiencing the emotion and thrill of playing in the WBC, Urías returned to the Dodgers’ Spring Training camp before Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to Seattle and couldn’t say enough good things about his experience.
“Honestly, you just have to live it in order to be able to feel it,” Urías said in Spanish. “It was something I was really motivated to do. It was a blessing to get that deep in the tournament, but the most important thing was to represent the country and feel the energy in the clubhouse. You honestly don’t feel that in other clubhouses, only that Mexican clubhouse.”
Urías started the opening game for Mexico against Colombia and was on the mound for the Mexicans’ comeback win over Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals. The left-hander said the experience exceeded his expectations, and it’s something he looks forward to doing again in the future.
“Obviously during the World Series I was able to throw the last pitch and get the last out, but this was just different,” Urías said. “We all had the same goal in mind, which was to grow the game in Mexico, and we did that.”
Now that Urías is back with the Dodgers, his focus is on getting ready for the regular season. Urías is scheduled to pitch in Friday’s Cactus League game against Milwaukee, his last tuneup of the spring. If that goes according to plan, it’s widely expected that Urías will be named the Dodgers’ Opening Day starter for the first time in his career.
The Dodgers, like most MLB teams, will announce their Opening Day starters on Friday. When asked about the possibility of starting his first Opening Day, Urías quickly smiled.
“My focus is on Friday,” Urías said. “After Friday we can definitely talk.”
Barring a midseason extension, Urías, who has spent his entire career with Los Angeles, will be a free agent at the end of the season. Whether this is Urías’ last season with the Dodgers remains to be seen. But no matter how things shake out, he hopes the next six months have as many memorable moments as his last two weeks representing his country.
“I know how much it meant to Julio,” said catcher Austin Barnes, who also returned Wednesday from Team Mexico. “You could tell how excited he was, even when he wasn’t pitching and he was cheering on everybody. We’d score a run and he’d be out of the dugout. It was awesome.”
Pepiot’s quest continues
Right-hander Ryan Pepiot is among the top choices for the Dodgers’ No. 5 spot in the starting rotation, and he made his latest case on Wednesday against the Mariners at Peoria Sports Complex.
Pepiot allowed three runs on five hits and struck out six over 4 2/3 innings. He has a 3.29 ERA this spring, striking out 19 over 13 2/3 innings. Most importantly, Pepiot has shown improved command, despite his two walks on Wednesday.
Michael Grove takes the mound for the Dodgers on Thursday against the D-backs in Scottsdale. Like Pepiot, Grove is competing for the last spot in the rotation. He has a 4.38 ERA in five starts this spring.
“It’s close,” manager Dave Roberts said of the race for the last spot in the rotation. “There really is no wrong direction.”
Will Smith and Mookie Betts, who were on Team USA in the WBC, are expected to be back with the Dodgers on Thursday. Smith didn’t get much playing time during the tournament, so the Dodgers will prioritize giving the star catcher extra at-bats before the start of the regular season.