Chris Young takes next step in minor league game

Sometimes, like today, Chris Young has to remind himself what progress means for a pitcher.

He threw 41 pitches over 1 2/3 innings in a minor league ‘B’ game played inside Space Coast Stadium, his last tune-up before he makes a Grapefruit League start Saturday in Ross Detwiler’s place. In front of General Manager Mike Rizzo and several other Nationals front office members, Young struck out one Nationals minor leaguer, but allowed four hits and two unearned runs. The majority of the contact against him was soft, but hitters smoked a few line drives, too.

Young, the 6-foot-10 right-hander the Nationals signed to a minor league deal in late February, wished that he felt more “locked in” this afternoon, he said. But then he caught himself, and recalled where he was at this time the past two years: Not even throwing off a mound, deciding whether he could play catch from 75 or 90 feet.

Because of shoulder issues, including a major surgery to repair a torn capsule early in the 2011 season, Young has not enjoyed a normal spring training in years. He is finally preparing for the season rather than rehabbing an injury in March. And he is remembering that, just because he punched up a 3.09 ERA in his final eight starts, it still takes time to ramp back up.

“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 [from the] 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.”

Young’s start went well enough, but he felt a few ticks off – fastball location, feel for his offspeed pitches, “a little bit of everything,” he said. The third batter he faced, outfield prospect Michael Taylor, roped a line drive to left-center that center field Brian Goodwin tracked down. In his second inning, he threw only 11 of 20 pitches for strikes.

He kept his fastball up in the zone, which is what he wants to do. Batters almost never see a release point as high as Young’s, and so he creates uncomfortable angles for hitters.

“That’s the style of pitcher I am,” Young said. “I try to get ahead down and expand up. 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 will make his first appearance against a major league team Saturday, replacing Detwiler, who departed today for the World Baseball Classic. “I’m not worried about that,” Young said. “If today was a regular game, I felt like I would’ve been ready for that.”

Young’s minor league contract includes an opt-out he can exercise on March 24 if the Nationals have not added him to the roster. They signed him, essentially, as insurance should one of their starters get hurt. Young has never relieved, and he doesn’t see that as an option for now.

“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.”

The Nationals plans for Young, and whether the sides stay together, will be decided later in the spring. For now, he’ll be content to be back to normal.

“There’s a lot of things to work on, a lot of improvements to be made,” Young said. “But that’s what spring training’s for. And I’ll get there.”

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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James Wagner · March 4, 2013

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