Chris Young has loved playing for the Nationals since he signed one month ago, but he may not stay with them much longer if he keeps pitching like he did Wednesday afternoon.
Young, brought to Nationals on a minor league deal as insurance behind their starting rotation, delivered his best performance of the spring against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium – two hits, one walk and two strikeouts over five shutout innings. The outing could convince an opposing team in need of a start to offer him a major league deal, allowing Young to trigger the opt-out clause in his contract by the March 24 deadline.
The Nationals plan for Young to start Monday, the day after his opt-out deadline. But will he still be around by then?
“I don’t know,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
Young plans to meet and talk with his agent between now and then to discuss his options. While he has enjoyed everything about the Nationals, he admitted the obvious – he would accept any major league opportunity rather than serving as depth for the Nationals at Class AAA Syracuse.
“It depends on what the alternatives are,” Young said. “Until I know what else is out there, I can’t say that. I do feel like I’m a big league pitcher. To turn down a big league opportunity to go to Triple A is probably not in my best interest. If I’m weighing Triple A options, this would be at the top of my list.”
When Young signed with the Nationals on Feb. 21, he understood his role. If one of their five starters suffered an injury, he would be next up to join the rotation. If not, they would send him to Class AAA unless a major league team came calling. For now, Young has not weighed his options.
“There’s a lot of stuff that I’m going to have to evaluate,” Young said. “I love it here. I’ve had a great spring. I love being around these guys. It’s a lot of fun. Being around a winning team, it’s so much fun. You can tell how good this team is, and it’s fun to be around. Coaching staff has been unbelievable, from [pitching coach Steve McCatty] and Davey. Mike Rizzo has been awesome. Even my experiences with Mark Lerner, everything has been great. There’s nothing not to like about being here.”
Young’s performance today may have opened eyes elsewhere. Even while topping out at 84 miles per hour with his fastball, Young fooled the Marlins all afternoon. He struck out Giancarlo Stanton swinging at a slider in the first inning and induced three swing-and-misses from Stanton during his start. After a leadoff walk to Juan Pierre, he battered the strike zone. At one point, he retired nine consecutive hitters, even as the radar gun showed 79 to 82 most of the day.
“I don’t know where my velocity is. I really don’t care,” Young said. “I’ve never relied on velocity. It helps. When I’ve had better velocity, I seem to get more foul balls and not as many quick outs. Sometimes it’s run my pitch count up. I try to focus on making good pitches. My arm strength is not where it will be. It comes as the season progresses. But it’s going to keep better and better.”
On the mound, Young looks like a silo in the middle of a field. At 6 feet, 10 inches, he is one of the five tallest pitchers in major league history. He can fool hitters with low velocity because they so rarely see his arm angle, and he moves fastballs up and down in the strike zone to further deceive hitters.
“He’s a heck of a pitcher,” Johnson said. “He knows how to pitch. We certainly had troubles when we faced him, and he’s the same kind of guy. He reads hitters well. Mixes pitches up. Doesn’t give into anybody.”
The outing didn’t impress everybody. Before the game, one National League scout indicated Young had not shown enough during the spring to convince an opposing club to add him to its major league roster. Another scout described his outing today in candid terms: “Good results for the [stuff] he runs up there. Still all about angles and deception.”
Young finally put severe shoulder surgery behind him last year, when he made 20 starts for the Mets over the final three months of the season. Given Young’s track record when healthy, his strong results today could be enough to get a team to bite.
The Padres, one of Young’s former teams, appear to be in need of starting pitcher. The Angels’ already thin staff took a hit today when right-hander Tommy Hanson left a start with right triceps tightness, three frightening words for a pitcher. The Twins could use another starter, and they had a scout in attendance this afternoon.