Chris Young has been such a consistent pillar in the Mariners rotation this season that it’s easy to forget the condition his career was in beforehand.
Shoulder problems kept Young out of the major leagues for all of last year – in fact he had an abysmal 7.77 ERA in seven starts for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs in 2013 – and the Washington Nationals decided he was expendable at the tail end of spring training this season and cut him loose. The prospects didn’t look good for the 6-foot-10 right-hander, especially since he doesn’t touch 90 mph with his fastball and was coming off surgery to remedy thoracic outlet syndrome.
The Mariners took a chance on Young out of necessity, though, having been left with few options for their No. 5 starter after a contract dispute resulted in the release of Randy Wolf.
In retrospect, the move looks like a stroke of genius.
Even at 35, Young has been nothing short of a revelation, posting a 12-6 record and 3.07 ERA. Always a fly-ball pitcher, his signing with the Mariners has been an impeccable match, as he’s been able to take advantage of the spacious confines of Safeco Field and a stellar defense behind him.
That’s not to say Young has only been good at home – though he does have a sparkling 2.35 ERA in Seattle. His start Sunday in Detroit against the Tigers, a team the Mariners are in a hotly-contested Wild Card race with, was just another gem in a long line for Young. He held Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and company to just four hits and a walk in six scoreless innings, leading the M’s to an 8-1 victory that pushed them a half-game ahead of Detroit in the standings.
While Felix Hernandez’s record-setting season has him in line to win his second American League Cy Young Award, his less-heralded teammate could also take home some hardware this offseason. Just ask his manager.
“If he’s not Comeback Player of the Year, I don’t know who could possibly be,” Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon said on the pre-game show on 710 ESPN Seattle Monday. “He takes the post every time out, and that’s just been tremendous for us. He gives us quality innings, we’re in every game that he pitches, he gives us a great opportunity to win ball games. It’s nice to know that you have a guy like that slotted into your 4-hole.”
Considering how desperate the Mariners were for one last arm at the beginning of the season, they could not be more pleased with the performance of Young, who’s turning out to be a valuable veteran presence as they push to make their first postseason in 13 years.
“This guy just continues to impress. Chris has just been phenomenal,” McClendon said. “The way he sets up hitters – he has the ability to pitch up in the strike zone, and then when he gets them looking up, he can throw that breaking ball down in the zone. He has a good change-up, a good cutter, and command has just been great, and I think his numbers bear that out.”