Young, Mariners proving a perfect match
Right-hander revives career with team searching for healthy starting pitching
SEATTLE -- The Seattle Mariners and Chris Young needed each other.
The Mariners had a rotation that was hit with injuries, forcing projected starters Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker to open the season on the disabled list. And then veteran left-hander Randy Wolf refused to sign a contract that would have allowed Seattle to void it any time in the first 45 days of the season.
Young was looking for a legitimate last chance, at the age of 35, to revive a career that had been in limbo since 2008 because of a series of questionable shoulder surgeries when it turned out his problem was a neural issue in his shoulder known as thoracic outlet syndrome.
Released by the Nationals on March 25, Young was signed by the Mariners two days later. He accepted the 45-day out clause that Wolf declined.
It's too early in the season to say that Seattle and Young lived happily ever after. Nobody, however, is complaining about the relationship. And with the season now 40 days old, any concerns about that 45-day clause seem completely unfounded.
Young has not just filled a void in the Mariners' rotation. He has stepped in and become a major factor in Seattle's quest to hang close to American League West-leading Oakland.
How big a factor?
On Saturday night at Safeco Field, Young put together eight of the best innings anyone could ask for in the Mariners' 3-1 victory over Kansas City, limiting the Royals to three hits, and needing only 96 pitches to get the 24 outs needed before turning things over to closer Fernando Rodney to work the ninth.
"He's pretty good," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said, "and he's getting better and better."
That's because Young is finally feeling better and better.
That's because after surgery for a torn labrum in 2009, a disabling right shoulder strain in '10, surgery for a torn anterior capsule in his right shoulder in '11, and continued efforts to rehab his shoulder in '12, Young finally hooked up with Dr. Robert Thompson, a vascular surgeon with the Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis.
And Thompson confirmed Young's belief that he was actually suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome.
"At the time, I was content with the way my career had been," said Young. "I was resigned my shoulder couldn't take any more. But I sent him three pages listing my symptoms, baseball-related and non-baseball related.
"When I walked in to his office, he had a smile on his face. I was wondering if I was crazy. He told me I had a case of classic thoracic outlet syndrome, and the previous surgery might have been avoided if it was caught sooner."
Next thing Young knew, he was waking up from the surgery performed by Thompson, and for the first time in more than five years, his shoulder didn't ache.
"Once you have surgery in general, you forget what normal is," Young said. "I had pain. I felt it was just something I had to deal with. I felt it was part of the surgery. I didn't realize the actual cause had not been addressed."
And along came Thompson. Instead of retirement, Young was ready to resume his career, and he had made a new friend.
"He's probably texted me already," Young said after he ran his record in Seattle to 3-0 and lowered his ERA to 2.83 at the expense of the Royals. "I have a game ball and jersey from my first win I'm going to send him as a way of saying, 'Thank you.'"
The Mariners are saying "thank you," as well.
They have won each of Young's last four starts. He has given up three runs or fewer in five of his six starts. Young still throws in the 86-87-mph range, but that's where he was in the early days of his big league career, back when he was an National League All-Star with the San Diego Padres in 2007.
"And I can sleep on my right side again," said Young.
It's why Young had no concerns about the 45-day clause in his Mariners contract.
"A club can release you at any point," said Young. "That just protects them financially if you don't perform. I love the opportunity to play the game and be in Major League baseball. I felt my health problems had been taken care of. I was confident I'd be successful. You can't going into some prepare for the worst.
"I have two mottos: 'The game owes you nothing,' and 'Performance is what counts.'"
Young also has learned the hard way not to take things for granted. A graduate of Princeton, where he was a starter on the basketball team, as well as a pitcher, Young is realistic in assessing his situation in Seattle.
"So far, so good," he said. "My goal is to help this club into the playoffs, not make six starts. I'm not trying to evaluate things at this point. My goal is to keep getting better."
This is, after all, where Young wanted to be. Safeco Field is, he said, his favorite park, and Seattle is one of his favorite cities.
And right now, Young is one of the favorites of the Mariners and their fans.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.