Jose Urena ready for new, healthy chapter with Detroit Tigers
Detroit – More than two years later, Jose Urena is still insisting that the field has just got away from him.
If you even knew anything about this lanky, Dominican Republic-born right-handed man before the Tigers signed him for $ 3.25 million for a year last week, it was likely that Urena would be available for the The Marlins were suspended for six games after drilling Braves bat Ronald Acuna Jr. with the first pitch of the game – a 97-mile heater.
With Acuna winning five games in a row and hitting Homer in the last three games, the immediate reaction was for Urena to deliberately berate him. Urena claimed after that and since then he’s been on his plan – throw the fastball in, move it off the platter, then try to get it out with a sinker or break the ball on the outer part of the platter.
That first pitch, he said, escaped him and he was sorry. This is a pitcher who led the National League in batsmen for two seasons, so pitching inside is part of his game. He tried to explain that to people. It was a mistake, a flawed pitch – not a bean ball.
Nobody bought that. Not the league, not even his manager Don Mattingly. But Urena, who first spoke about Zoom to the Detroit media on Tuesday, doesn’t change his story.
“I (still) don’t see it that way,” he said.
What is lost in this incident is Urena’s response. He was baseball’s Bill Laimbeer for the remainder of this season, but he came back from suspension and went 6-0 in his last seven starts of the 2018 season with a 1.80 ERA.
Which, to imagine, was a very lambberry-like reaction. The more you hate him, the more he wants to hit you.
Contrary to popular belief, drilling Acuna wasn’t what changed Urena’s career. Actually, it’s more poetic than that.
His Miami career was derailed the same day Acuna demanded his revenge. June 7, 2019. Eight of Urena’s last nine games have been quality starts, but that day the Braves set him on fire. Acuna’s majestic bat bat after a home game in the fourth was the fiery exclamation point.
It turned out that Urena had a herniated disc in the lower back. He went on the injured list the next day and never returned fully to line up with the marlins.
“It took a little longer after I hurt my back,” he said. “Anyone who’s had a herniated disc, it’s a long process for your recovery … The process was a little difficult.”
When he finally returned to the Marlins in September, he worked out of the bullpen and eventually got closer to the club. Last season was almost a complete wash. He was limited to five starts because of COVID-19, and the last time he ran a line away from his forearm and broke his ulnar bone.
After the Marlins took over the Reliever Adam Cimber, he was no longer advertised and designated for use.
“I’m well now,” he said. “You work every day. You look back on 2017, 2018 when I was healthy and complete, then in 2019 and 2020 there were a lot of things for me … But if I can get out there and be healthy – the longer I be out there can to compete the better I will be. “
This is what the Tigers are counting on as they attempt to build a rotation for 2021 that, including starters at the Triple-A level, goes 10 or 11 deep.
Urena is 29 years old. He has only thrown 108 innings in the past two years. And if he’s right, he has a heavy power sinker and four-seam fastball (both in the 95 to 96 mph range) with a slurvy slider that he started using more last year and one hard change (90 mph).
“When José became available, he was identified as a player who could help our ball club win games,” said general manager Al Avila last week after the Tigers made the Urena official signing. “We look forward to contributing his experience at a high level and know that he will make a significant contribution to our young employees.
“José has a great ability to navigate a line-up and limit damage while his team stays in the game. This is exactly the stability we’re looking for for the 2021 season.”
That’s the kind of pitcher he is, not much swing-and-miss, but smart. In his two best seasons in Miami, he got lots of soft contact and floor balls. And it’s certainly no coincidence that in those two seasons – 2017 and 2018 – his pitching coach was Juan Nieves, now the Tigers’ deputy pitching coach.
“I know Juan Nieves and he knows me,” said Urena. “We worked together for a couple of years and it was pretty good for me… He helped me a lot. He worked with me to keep the same rhythm, to go out and fight and attack with my strengths. “
He hasn’t had much opportunity to use it over the last season, but since 2019 he’s changed his approach a bit. As with many sinkerball pitchers, the trend towards hits that increased their starting angle worked against his bread and butter. The parking spaces in the zone were no longer hammered into the ground, but fired from the barrel.
At this point he began throwing more four-sailors who stayed straight and in the zone and sliders.
“I made it my business to have more to do with the breaking ball,” he said. “With my fastball and my move, there weren’t enough differences in speed. Sometimes I throw my change too hard. I have a hard time slowing my body and my arm is getting too fast.
“The slider helps me to slow everything down… The four-seater, we implemented that more last year. We started attacking more with a straight four-seam and slider (from the same arm slot) on the outside corner – that made a big difference.
“We’ll try to put that together.”
The Marlins are the only organization Urena has ever known. He was there for a total of 12 years. Now he’s joining a new team, in a new city with a completely different climate – when asked if he has a winter coat, he said: “I hope so” – and to a new league. Ch-ch-ch-actually changes.
“Yes, it will be a new experience for me,” he said. “I thank everyone for their support and I am very excited to be working for the Detroit Tigers.”
The Tigers may see it as a reclamation project, a strong contender for rebounding, but Urena isn’t bringing that kind of baggage to Detroit.
“I’m not saying that I have a goal, I want to say that I have a goal,” he said. “I’ll do whatever I can to be consistent and go out and have fun. I have a lot to bring with me for people who love this game. I’ll go out there and be consistent and do my best to carry out my plan. “