VIERA, Fla. - Right about now, Chris Young should be toeing a mound somewhere at the Nationals’ spring facility, throwing a bullpen session in front of his new pitching coach, Steve McCatty, and other Nats staffers.
Young got to the Nationals’ complex this morning after signing a minor league deal with the team last night, and spent the early part of today going through various medical procedures. He was scheduled to throw at 2:30 p.m., after which the Nats will determine how to utilize the 33-year-old righty in the next couple of weeks.
The 6-foot-10 Young towered over reporters as he met with us a couple of hours ago, explaining how he feels physically and his reasons for signing with the Nationals.
“There (were) a lot of factors,” Young said. “I think the opportunity to be part of a winning organization, at this point, a model organization. I’ve played against these guys for a while. (The team’s) extremely talented. Certainly, that factored into the decision greatly. All things considered, I felt like it’s a place I wanted to be. There’s no real specific reason that jumps out. I felt like it was a good fit.”
Young has battled shoulder issues much of the last few years, appearing in just 22 games between 2009-11. He had surgery to repair the capsule in his throwing shoulder in May 2011, then returned to pitch in 20 games for the Mets last season.
“That was a long, frustrating process,” Young said. “It was sort of one long shoulder injury that I tried to deal with until I got to a point where I had to get it fixed. Once I got it fixed, the rehab went smoothly. I got back last year and got stronger as the season went. I’m really excited about where I feel for things right now.
“You can’t simulate being in a baseball environment throwing at home, but I’m as close to that as I could possibly be. The last couple years, it’s been rehab programs. This year was a normal throwing program. Arm strength is built up. I’ve thrown multiple bullpens and felt good. Arm strength feels better than it did at the end of last season. All in all, I’m encouraged by where I am. I’m excited for things to get started.”
Young posted a 4.64 ERA through his first 15 starts with the Mets last season, but felt he turned a corner down the stretch, when he allowed just nine eared runs over 29 2/3 innings.
“Everyone I talked to about shoulder surgery said it takes close to two full years to really get everything back,” Young said. “Last year, I made it back just past 12 months. It certainly wasn’t easy. I was out there competing with less than my best stuff. I still had limited success, I’d say, and got stronger as I went. Certainly, I want to build on that.”
General manager Mike Rizzo implied that Young has an opt-out clause in his contract, which would allow him to refuse an assignment to Triple-A Syracuse. With the Nationals having a clear-cut starting five already in place, Young would ideally start the season in the minors (barring injury to one of those five starters) and be available should the Nats need a spot start at some point.
That’s how manager Davey Johnson views the Young signing.
“As far as I’m concerned, he steps into that role where if anything happens to any of my starters, he’d be right at the top of the list,” Johnson said.
Asked if he would be open to beginning the year at Triple-A, Young said he’s focused more on the short-term.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” he said. “Right now, I just felt like to be part of a winning culture, a winning environment - and for me, it’s really just about going out and pitching. No matter where I am, I got to pitch and pitch well. That’s my focus right now. All the other stuff is stuff I can’t control and stuff I won’t worry about.
“I’m just going to pitch the best that I can, wherever that is, and make the most of it.”