Evan Vucci/AP


Chris Young took the mound on Thursday against the Houston Astros for only the second time in a Nationals uniform. He allowed only one run, a solo home run four pitches into the game, and tossed four innings, a much stronger performance than his last outing. Afterward, the right-handed starter said he felt much better, though there was still room for improvement.

But Young’s progress is evaluated in a different light than the five other Nationals starters. He has two more starts remaining before he can opt out of his minor league deal with the Nationals on March 24, a week before opening day. The Nationals signed him as insurance should any of the starters get injured, but Young can leave after then if he wants. He would make $2 million if he were to make the opening day 25-man roster.

“It depends on the health,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I’m real comfortable with my starting staff. That’s the one area where we’re a little shallow, starting pitching.”

Young tossed 72 pitches, 43 of them for strikes. His command was sharper, and his lone mistake was a 1-2 fastball up that Marwin Gonzalez smashed for a home run. Young struck out three batters and walked two. He threw inside on right-handed batters. He located his fastball better. “A step in the right direction,” he said.

Young insisted he isn’t thinking about his contract situation and crowded Nationals roster.

“To me, I’m not thinking auditioning,” he said. “I’m just focused on going out and making good pitches. I mean, I know what I’m capable of doing when I’m healthy and I feel healthy, I feel strong and I feel arm issues are behind me.”

Regardless of his future with the Nationals, Johnson said he thinks the right-hander could be valuable addition to any team.

“He’s a smart pitcher,” he said. “He locates the ball well. He knows what he has to do be successful. I like his repertoire. I think today was more an indication of how he can pitch.”