Chris Young working through inconsistency, mechanics in first start

For right-hander Chris Young, Saturday’s appearance — his first start in a spring training game in a Nationals uniform — was purely about repetitions. It mattered little that he gave up three runs on three hits and walked three batters over three innings. He just needed to climb the mound, throw, evaluate his mechanics. Results will come with time.

“Erratic,” he said of his performance against the Miami Marlins in a 8-7 win in Viera. “I’d say that I was a little out of sync. Physically, I felt fine. Shoulder felt really good. It felt good, everything physically. It’s just mechanics are a work in progress. I throw three good pitches and four bad ones. So just not the consistency I’d like but it’s what spring training is for.”

This was the first spring training the 6-foot-10 Young hasn’t had to worry about rehab for his shoulder, which underwent a major surgery early in the 2011 season. He started Saturday for Ross Detwiler, who will throw tonight for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic against Italy.

Young, signed three weeks ago to bolster the team’s starting depth, normally keeps his fastball high in the strike zone. His high release point makes uncomfortable angles for hitters. He struggled with command on Saturday, not unexpected for his first start.  Just 26 of his 52 pitches were strikes.

“It’s release point and fastball command,” he said. “And so you know, you’re out there getting a feel while competing. For me, for whatever reason, it’s always been a little challenging in spring. And as spring progresses, it just gets better and better. And by then, it’s where I want to be.”

According to a friendly scout, Young’s fastball sat between 80-84 miles per hour. That is about how hard he threw early last season when returning from shoulder issues. By the final game of the season, his fastball averaged 85.6 mph. Velocity at this point in spring doesn’t matter, Young said, but it’s at least a sign that he is well within his normal range as he builds arm strength and increases his effort with every start.

“He’s a big machine getting going,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “He threw some quality pitches. He always pitches up. I guess it’s coming from 6-10 and up there around an 8-feet release. Having a hard time getting it down.”

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.

>>> Bryce Harper demolished a home run to over the right-center wall off of lefty reliever Brad Hand and is hitting .462 (12 for 26) in 10 games. Danny Espinosa went 1 for 2 with a smoothly-hit single up the middle from the right side of the plate.

Zach Walters hit his second home run in as many day, a bomb that seemed to go further than home runs by Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. Walters is benefiting from a tweaked batting stance with help from Johnson and hitting coach Rick Eckstein.

>>> Denard Span robbed a home run from Kyle Jensen in the third inning, tracking a ball hit deep to left-center, jumping at the wall and catching it. Span’s closing speed in center field is exceptional. “He’s just a gifted athlete,” Johnson said. “He’s fitting right in.”

He is hitting .158 (3 for 19) in nine games as he adjusts to the National League. He’s also been working pitchers deep in counts.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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James Wagner · March 9, 2013