VIERA, Fla. - Chris Young has never been a guy who wows scouts with his overpowering stuff or blows hitters away with a fastball that reaches the mid-to-upper 90s.
The veteran right-hander has made a nice career out of throwing strikes, deceiving hitters with his repertoire and using his 6-foot-10 frame to create a different pitch trajectory than batters are used to.
Today, pitching in a minor league intrasquad game inside Space Coast Stadium, Young looked a lot like the guy the Nationals probably thought they were getting when they signed him to a minor league deal a couple weeks ago.
Young worked 1 2/3 innings this afternoon, allowing two unearned runs on four hits with one strikeout. He gave up a few hard-hit balls, was let down by a couple poor defensive plays behind him and finished his outing with 41 pitches thrown, 26 of which were strikes. Afterward, he declared himself ready for his first Grapefruit League appearance, which will come Saturday, when he’s scheduled to start for the Nationals against the Marlins.
“I felt all right,” Young said after his outing today. “Really, first competitive situation for me in spring and it’s just a process. It’s step one. There’s a lot of things to work on, a lot of improvements to be made, but that’s what spring training’s for, and I’ll get there. ...
“I don’t think anybody feels locked in at this point. There’s always stuff to work on and certainly as the arm strength comes and mechanics get in sync, fastball command will come around and from there it’s easier to get the off-speed pitches. But it’s just a gradual process.”
Young allowed two hits in the first inning, but left two runners in scoring position when he struck out Brandon Miller to end the frame. After a fielding error put the leadoff runner on in the second, Young allowed two singles. A run eventually came in on a throwing error by the catcher, and with Young at his pitch limit, the second inning ended with just two outs having been recorded.
Young threw a few sliders and change-ups today, and while he didn’t think he had great feel of the off-speed stuff, he threw two nice sliders to shortstop Stephen Perez to open a second-inning at-bat, both of which Perez looked at for strikes.
“There were some that were good and a couple that just didn’t have the finish that I’d like,” Young said, “but like I said, it’s something that as the 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’s easier to get the feel for those pitches.”
Young was asked following today’s outing whether he’d be willing to relieve, should the Nationals ask him to do so.
“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 relieved once, and it was in the All-Star Game, and it didn’t go well. But we’ll see where things are.”
It’s clear from watching Young in the past, as well as watching him this afternoon, that he loves working up in the zone. You’d think that a guy who maxes out in the mid-80s wouldn’t be able to live by leaving the ball up, but his use of offspeed stuff combined with the tough downward plane at which his pitches enter the zone allow him to attack hitters with belt-high pitches, and often, it’s tough for them to handle.
When it’s not, of course, the ball be turned around and sent a long way.
“That’s the style of pitcher I am. I try to get ahead down and expand up,” Young said. “Some guys are in-and-out guys. Some guys are up-down. I’m an up-down type pitcher. With the height and the deception, it plays to my advantage.”
Young has battled shoulder issues much of the last three seasons, which significantly hampered the way he’s been able to prepare for the regular season. The 33-year-old didn’t appear in a big league game last season until June, but he finished the season strong, posting a 2.73 ERA in his final five starts with the Mets. This is Young’s first healthy spring in a while, which he admits changes his perspective on things.
“You lose track sometimes of where you’ve been and what I’ve gone through,” Young said. “Certainly, from a competitive standpoint, I want to pick right up where I left off. At the end of last season, I finished really strong. That’s my mindset - I’m going to build on that. And then you come out and you’re not as sharp as you’d like and the arm strength is still building. It just takes time. But perspective of where I’ve been and the rehab - at this point last year where I was throwing, 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. At the same time, as a competitor, you have expectations to be sharp and to be locked in right away. It’s probably not realistic.”