Jose Urena’s birthday is on Monday, but he might have come of age on Sunday.
Urena, the Marlins’ soon-to-be 25-year-old right-hander, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings on Sunday, allowing just four singles and no walks, as the Marlins defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-0 at Marlins Park.
It was the longest outing of any Marlins pitcher this year, and it was two innings deeper into a game than Urena had ever gone in his two years in the majors.
Urena (4-6) lowered his ERA from 5.54 to 4.89, and the secret might have been his curveball. Urena has long had sufficient velocity to win at this level — a mid-90s fastball — but he needed a pitch to dive down in the strike zone.
On Sunday, thanks in part to catcher J.T. Realmuto, he found what he needed.
“We haven’t seen a lot of [his curve], but it’s a depth pitch,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “It’s one of the things that Jose has missed. He gets sink. But his slider hasn’t been a true depth pitch. Fastball, changeup — [those pitches are] still on the same plane.
“If you get a curveball, then you get something that goes down, and it slows them down on the fastball.”
It was Realmuto, Mattingly said, who had true belief in Urena’s curve, telling his manager that he has seen it dart down below hitters’ knees in the past.
And it was Urena who put the work in to make it major-league effective.
“With hard work, you will have benefits,” Urena said in Spanish. “If you don’t throw it, you won’t see benefits.
“[The Dodgers were] looking for changeups outside, and I was going low and in with the curve.”
Urena, with his new and improved arsenal, had thrown 95 pitches after eight innings, and Mattingly felt that was enough for a pitcher who was making just his 18th major-league start, nine in each of the past two years.
But Urena convinced Mattingly to let him pitch the ninth — with one caveat. If one batter got on, Urena was out.
Urena got pinch-hitter Andrew Toles on a fly out and leadoff man Chase Utley on a groundout to edge to the precipice of a shutout. But when Josh Reddick got an opposite-field single, Mattingly headed to the mound, and Urena knew the drill.
“That is something you can’t control,” Urena said of Mattingly’s decision to remove him after 108 pitches. “The most important thing is to win the game.”
The Marlins (71-72) won in large part because of Urena, with help from A.J. Ramos, who got the next batter, Corey Seager, to bounce out. It was Ramos’ 34th save of the season and his second in the series.
Hitting stars for the Marlins were two of the usual suspects — Martin Prado and Christian Yelich, who each went 2 for 4. Prado, who scored two runs, is hitting .310 this season. Yelich, who is hitting .303, had one of the Marlins’ two RBI. The other was a sacrifice fly by Justin Bour.
But the big story was Urena, who even earned praise from Dave Roberts, the Dodgers manager.
Roberts said the Dodgers’ plan was to attack Urena early, a strategy that had something to do with Bill Miller, Sunday’s plate umpire.
“Miller has a tradition of having a little bit bigger [strike] zone,” Roberts said. “With a guy [Urena] who has wipeout stuff [and Miller behind the plate], we wanted to get pitches we could handle. We barreled some balls but just got under them.
“Urena was really good. He moved the ball around, pitched with velocity. He has a big arm, and we couldn’t get anything going.”