At 6-foot-10, Seattle Mariners pitcher Chris Young has long been an imposing figure perched atop a mound. In fact, his Sunday afternoon tilt with the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field may have given some Mariners fans flashbacks to a time when 6-foot-10 southpaw Randy Johnson would take the mound once every five games for their hometown squad.
Before Sunday’s start, Young last hurled an MLB pitch toward home plate during a Sep. 29 game for the New York Mets in 2012. After his time in New York, he spent part of one season in the Washington Nationals‘ Triple-A farm system in 2013. Eventually, he was diagnosed with a nerve condition in his neck that required surgery. The Nationals re-signed him to a Minor league deal in the winter and then released him during Spring Training earlier this year.
The Mariners were quick to make an offer, signing Young to an incentive-laden contract on Mar. 27 of 2014. Since then, injuries to Taijuan Walker, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton have prompted needs in the Mariners’ rotation.
Unlike The Big Unit, Young is a towering right-hander known more for his precision control and command than he is for having overpowering stuff. According to the website fangraphs.com, Young’s fastball has not averaged over 91 MPH since 2007.
On Sunday at Safeco, Young’s command was in fine form. He threw 60 of his 97 pitches for strikes and worked through six innings while surrendering no runs. To begin the ballgame, Coco Crisp was caught looking at strikes by Young as the initial batter in the top of the first inning. It was a strong start to Young’s outing. The quality start posted against the sixth-highest scoring team in the American League should also have sent a powerful message to manager Lloyd McClendon concerning Young’s tenure in Seattle.
Unfortunately, the Mariners’ offense was rather anemic against the Athletics and mustered only three hits on the night, scoring zero runs.
But what does his debut mean for Young’s future with the team? Felix Hernandez, and likely Iwakuma, are mainstays in the rotation when healthy. Paxton impressed in his first two starts and should not be on the shelf long. The Mariners will give Walker every chance to succeed once he gets called after his final rehab start in Triple-A this week .
That leaves Young, Erasmo Ramirez, Roenis Elias and Blake Beaven battling it out for the fifth and final spot on McClendon’s starting staff. Granted, this would only be the scenario if or when the stars finally align and everyone is healthy.
McClendon would be wise to continue giving the ball to Young in 2014. With over 150 MLB starts since 2004, he provides a strong veteran presence at the back end of a rather youthful rotation and could assist in mentoring the development of Walker, Paxton and Ramirez. Young is a reliable, if not electric, arm when all cylinders are firing properly.
A frequent visitor to the disabled list for much of his career, it is clear Young still has a true passion and hunger for the game. His focus and dedication towards continually rekindling his health and putting in work in the Minors is a testament to his worth — both on the mound as a starting pitcher and as an experienced veteran in the clubhouse.
At 34, Young delivered exactly what the Mariners needed following a 3-1 loss to the Athletics on Saturday. A Mariner fan could not ask for more from a starting pitcher of his age making their first start in The Show in over a full year. So long as he does not break down and continues to provide the team with economical starts, Young will be more of an asset to the organization in the rotation than he will be in the bullpen. He wants to be a bona fide contributor and is deserving of a continued opportunity. Hopefully McClendon will recognize this.