It’s been a trying season for Jose Urena, from the very first pitch he threw to the Chicago Cubs’ Ian Happ, which was belted for a home run, to the one and only pitch he threw Wednesday to the Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr., which found exposed flesh.
Urena stood at his locker Friday trying to make sense of a poor season punctuated by a moment that set off a firestorm, from that erratic first inning on Opening Day when he gave up the homer and hit three Cubs batters with pitches, to Wednesday’s incident that led to his ejection and a six-game suspension levied by the league.
“I didn’t do that on purpose,” Urena said once again.
Major League Baseball -- and most who saw Acuna wincing in pain after Urena hit the Braves’ star rookie in the left arm -- felt otherwise. Thus, the league was quick to levy the suspension, which Urena is appealing.
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Critics have cast Urena as a villain while others have railed against the league for being too soft. A six-game suspension merely pushes back Urena’s next start by two days, and with the appeal ongoing, manager Don Mattingly didn’t rule out having Urena make his next start on Sunday against the Nationals.
“He’s not a villain like everybody’s trying to make him out to be,” said Marlins All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, who has played with Urena since the two were in the minors. “He’s not head-hunting. He’s not trying to hurt anybody.”
But Urena makes no secret of his intent to pitch inside and aggressively.
“Yeah, because that’s my identity,” he said. “That’s how I pitch and everybody knows that. I throw inside to be aggressive. We try to stick to that plan every time I’m out there.”
Said Realmuto: “Every game he starts, somebody is having to jump out of the way. His ball has run to it.”
After hitting 14 batters with pitches last season to lead the majors, Urena began this season by hitting three Cubs batters in the first inning alone. His total is now up to 11, which leads the National League.
Urena leads the league with 12 losses one season after going 14-7. Part of that stems from his own lack of success. His ERA is nearly a run higher than it was a year ago. But Urena’s poor season statistically is also a by-product of his team’s failure to help him out. He ranks next-to-last in run support among qualified pitchers.
“It’s been a battle,” Urena said.
Still, the Acuna plunking was alarming, coming as it did after the red-hot rookie had pounded the Marlins by homering in the first innings of each of their three previous games against the Braves.
The criticism that followed came just as hard and fast.
“For me, that is pretty hard for any person to take, when the people don’t know you and they’re saying bad things,” Urena said. “They don’t know the type of person I am. I’ve been professional and do my thing.”
Urena said he has not yet reached out to Acuna.
“I didn’t try to contact him because that would be hard,” Urena said. But I hope he’ll be OK. I like when I face people like that, when they’re one of the top hitters.”
Urena also posted his feelings on Instagram.
“While pitching against the Braves, my intentions were not to hurt anyone,” he wrote. “Unfortunately things escalated into something that was never intended. I am glad and thankful Ronald Acuna was able to return to the lineup this evening without there being any issues.”
Urena said he has no intentions to change his pitching style. He will continue to pitch inside.
“That is my strength,” he said. “I go out there and use my strength.”
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