The Washington Nationals signed veteran right-hander Chris Young a few weeks back, at which point he said he was ready to get back on the mound and pitch competitively. Where he fits in the Nats' plans for the 2013 season in unclear...
The Washington Nationals signed 33-year-old, 6'10'' right-hander Chris Young to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training back on February 22nd, adding to the starting depth in the organization. According to reporting by ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick on Twitter (@JCrasnick), the deal the nine-year major league veteran signed, "... will pay him $2M if he makes big league club," but he, "Can opt out March 24," if it doesn't look like he will. Should Young make the Nats' rotation, Mr. Crasnick wrote, he, "... can earn $3.8M in incentives with 30 starts & 180 IP," which will be, "A challenge given his health history and strength of [Nationals'] rotation."
In 2012 with the New York Mets, Young was (4-9) with a 4.15 ERA, 4.50 FIP, 36 walks (2.82 BB/9) and 80 Ks (6.26 K/9) in 20 starts and 115.0 IP over which he was worth +0.5 fWAR. Young returned to the mound in June after rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his right shoulder which ended his 2011 campaign in May of that year after he'd signed with NY a free agent the previous January. The Mets brought the right-hander back on another minor league deal in 2012.
When he signed with Washington on February 22nd of this year, Young told reporters he was close to being able to pitch competitively. "You can't simulate being in a baseball environment at home," Young explained, "but I'm as close to that as I possibly could be. The last couple years has been sort of rehab programs. This year was a normal throwing program. Arm strength's built up. I've thrown multiple bullpens and feel good. Arm strength feels stronger than it did at the end of last season. So, all in all, I'm encouraged about where I am and excited to get started."
Young threw a live bullpen last week and the plan the Nationals laid out at the time was for him to throw in a minor league game, which he did today, and then fill in for Ross Detwiler starting on March 9th since the 26-year-old left-hander will be starting for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic at that point. In the start against Nats' minor leaguers this afternoon, Young allowed two unearned runs on four hits in 1.2 IP in which he threw 41 pitches, 26 of them strikes. Asked about how many offspeed pitches he threw in that game, Young said he hadn't really kept track of the pitch selection.
"I threw some sliders and changeups," Young told reporters. "There were some that were good and a couple that just didn't have the finish that I'd like, but like I said, it's something that, arm strength comes, arm speed, the fastball command gets better, you get the feel for the release point, everything comes off that and then it gets easier to get a feel for those pitches."
Though he'll be part of the Nationals' rotation for the next few weeks, barring any injuries, setbacks or unexpected changes, the Nats have their five starters locked in with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren expected to start the season as Washington's top five. When Young was asked today if he would consider working out of the pen if it meant staying in the majors, he said he hadn't yet considered the possibility.
"It hasn't been something that's been talked about," Young said, "It's not really a consideration at this point. If it becomes one, we'll discuss and see. I don't have much experience with it. I think I've started every game of my career. I know I have, so, I relieved once, it was in the All-Star Game and it didn't go well, so. But we'll see where things are." In that one All-Star appearance in 2007, Young, then a member of the Padres' staff, gave up a walk, one hit (a HR by Ichiro) and two earned runs in 1.0 IP. Over his nine season in the majors, the Princeton University-educated starter is (53-43) with a 3.79 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 3.46 BB/90 and 7.46 K/9 in 159 starts and 890.2 IP. As he explained after today's start, he's happy to be close to 100% right now considering how long a rehab process followed his shoulder surgery, but he's still not satisfied with where he is at the moment.
"You lose track sometimes of where you've been and what you've gone through, what I've gone through," Young said, "and certainly, from a competitive standpoint, I want to pick up right where I left off, and the end of last season, I finished really strong and that's my mind, I want to build on that and you come out and you're not as sharp as you'd like and the arm strength is still building, it just takes time." Young had a 4.64 ERA, 28 walks (2.95 BB/9) and 57 Ks (6.01 K/9) over 15 starts and 85.1 IP from June through August last season. In the last five starts of Young's 2012 campaign, the towering right-hander had a 2.73 ERA with eight walks (2.42 BB/9) and 23 Ks (6.98 K/9) in 29.2 IP.
He'd come a long way back, yes, but still wasn't satisfied though he keeps things in perspective. "Perspective, of where I've been and the rehab, and at this point last year, how I was throwing," Young said, "it wasn't even off a mound yet. Yeah, it's a night and day difference, but I'm not satisfied. I want to get back to being as good as I can be. I think it's sometimes good to remind yourself of that, but at the same time, as a competitor, you have expectations to be sharp and to be locked in right away and it's just not, probably not realistic."
Still it's much better than the past few seasons when he's been in rehab mode, rather than competitive games.
"I'm used to measuring, 'All right, I get to throw at 90 ft today instead of 75 for 15 throws or whatever,'" the veteran right-hander explained, "So, it certainly, the perspective has changed a little bit in the last few years, dealing with the shoulder stuff, but it really is nice to come out and do things off field and know that, 'All right, I'm feeling good today, I'm going to long toss,' or, 'Today, I'm pitching in two days, it's a shorter day, I'll prepare for my start,' stuff like that. It's nice to feel like it's a normal Spring Training, I guess is what I'm trying to say."
He's still not satisfied, however, to just be pitching again, as he reiterated one last time. "You never get complacent," Young said, "You never get comfortable. You're always trying to work and improve and never satisfied. And I guess that's why all of us are in this clubhouse."