JUPITER, Fla. - Chris Young’s outing Wednesday against the Miami Marlins - five scoreless innings of two-hit ball with nine straight batters retired at one point - may have created quite the win-win dilemma for the veteran right-hander.
Young’s most effective of three starts this spring lowered his Grapefruit League ERA to 3.00 and set the stage for some serious decision-making. Because he has a March 24 opt-out clause in the minor league deal he inked in February, there’s no guarantee he’ll make his next scheduled start March 25.
In fact, Wednesday’s effort may have just been enough to open the eyes of teams in need of a starting pitcher. And the stands at Roger Dean Stadium were full of scouts taking notes on Young’s progress.
That’s what Young saw from five crisp innings that necessitated 64 pitches.
“I felt good,” he said. “I felt like I continued to make progress. Fastball command’s gotten better. Slider was better today than it’s been the last couple of outings. Felt good overall. There’s still work to be done, progress to be made. But it’s an improvement and that’s the way spring’s supposed to go. You’re supposed to get a little bit better each time and I feel like I’ve made strides. I’m not where I want to be yet, but getting closer and feeling good - that’s the most important part.”
His opt-out date is looming, and while it’s doubtful Young could crack the starting five and head north with the Nationals, he clearly sounded like a guy aware of the situation but not eager to leave a clubhouse he’s come to enjoy being a part of. Young knows this is a time in spring training where teams fish or cut bait, and an established starting pitcher could be attractive to a team unwilling to hand a roster spot to a rookie or someone who hasn’t performed up to snuff.
“I hope so,” Young said. “I don’t know what the rules are regarding that. It’s something my agent and I will discuss and see if there are any opportunities out there and see where they may be. There’s a lot of stuff I’m going to have to evaluate. I love it here. I’ve had a great spring. I love being around these guys. It’s a lot of fun.
“Being around a winning team is so much fun. You can tell how good this team is and it’s fun to be around. The coaching staff’s been unbelievable, from Cat (pitching coach Steve McCatty) to Davey (Johnson). Mike Rizzo’s been awesome. Even my experiences with Mark Lerner - everything’s been great. ... There’s nothing not to like about being here, but I’m realistic. This staff is so deep. There’s 12, 14, maybe 15 pitchers deep here and there’s a lot of guys that wouldn’t be good enough to make this staff.”
Right now, Young doesn’t know what will happen. The Nationals could sign him to a major league deal, but that prospect seems unlikely barring an injury or trade.
“I’m not a fortune teller, so I don’t know. ... I can’t predict how things are going to play out,” he said when asked about his opt-out.
Young said he’d only go to Triple-A Syracuse if there were no other major league opportunities available.
“I do feel like I’m a big league pitcher,” he said. “To turn down a big league opportunity to go to Triple-A, I think is probably not in my best interest. If I’m weighing Triple-A options, this would be at the top of my list. If I’m comparing a big league opportunity to a Triple-A option, I think you guys would all do the same thing.”
If he were to stay in camp, Young would want to bump up his innings to around six innings or 90 pitches his next time out. He wants to be ready to throw 100 pitches by opening day and isn’t worried that his velocity - routinely in the 88-89 mph range with an occasional bump north of 90 mph - isn’t sufficient to get hitters out.
“I don’t know where my velocity is,” he said. “I really don’t care. I’ve never relied on my velocity. Actually, when I’ve had better velocity, I seem to get more foul balls and not as many quick outs. So sometimes it’s run my pitch count up.”
Johnson isn’t concerned that Young’s velocity isn’t higher.
“He’ll gain a little bit, but it’s not velocity - he knows how to pitch, what he needs to do with his pitches,” Johnson said.
But Young knows some difficult decisions - or perhaps some easy choices - are just around the corner.
“I don’t want to be a distraction, by any means,” he said. “I’ll sit down with Davey and Cat and Mike in the next few days and we’ll see where things are.”
Johnson sounded resigned to the possibility that Young would exercise his opt-out.
“I would think what he’s done this spring and what he’s done in his career, he wouldn’t have a problem - if he didn’t make this club, making some club,” Johnson said.