By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — When Josh Beckett threw a no-hitter Sunday, Mariners right-hander Chris Young was as excited as any Dodger fan.
You see, Young is not only enjoying a strong start to the 2014 season like Beckett, he’s doing so having also undergone surgery the year before to repair a potentially career-threatening nerve ailment.
“We had the same surgery last year,” Young said. “I was super excited for him to see that, it’s inspirational. It gives me hope that I can continue and make the most of my career as well.”
And Young was apparently so inspired, he decided to flirt with a no-hitter of his own in Seattle’s 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels Monday. Young lost his chance at history on a sixth-inning single, but he was still plenty good to improve to 4-2 while allowing just two hits and one run in 61/3 innings.
Young’s start to this season would be good for just about any pitcher, but that he’s doing it after missing all of the 2013 season, and after joining the Mariners just days before the season opened makes it all the more impressive.
When the Mariners acquired Young, who spent spring training with the Washington Nationals, most figured they were acquiring a stop-gap starter to hold down a spot at the back of the rotation until Taijuan Walker made it back from a shoulder injury. Yet nine starts into the season, Young is pitching like a man who has no intention to give up his place in Seattle’s rotation, even as pitchers like Walker and James Paxton eventually return from injuries.
“What a godsend for this rotation,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s just been tremendous. … He never wavers, he knows what he wants to do and he executes it pretty good.”
Whenever Paxton returns, he’s all but a lock to replace Brandon Maurer in the rotation, but neither Young nor rookie left-hander Roenis Elias have looked like pitchers who need to be replaced as soon as another option is available.
“He’s filled a huge hole,” Mariners catcher Mike Zunino said of Young. “He’s come in and given us great starts every fifth day. His numbers are showing well and he’s just done such a good job for us filling a big hole that we needed him to fill.”
What makes Young’s start to this season even more, to borrow McClendon’s term, of a godsend for the Mariners is that it took unusual circumstances for Young to even end up in Seattle. The Mariners were preparing to start the season with Randy Wolf as their No. 5 starter, but when he balked at the idea of signing a 45-day waiver — essentially a way for the Mariners to not pay him for the entire year if they parted ways with him early in the season — Seattle turned to Young, who had just opted out of his deal with Washington.
As awkward as the Wolf situation was, him telling the Mariners to take that waiver and shove it was the best thing that could have happened to them.
Of course the Mariners didn’t know what they were getting when they signed Young. Not only had he missed the previous season, but Young, an All-Star with San Diego in 2007, had pitched only four games in 2010 and 2011 before going 4-9 in 20 starts in 2012.
“I really didn’t know what to expect with him,” McClendon said. “He pitched the last game of spring training, if I remember right, and I just said, ‘This is unbelievable.’ And he continues to make me say, ‘This is unbelievable.’ Expectations? I really didn’t have any. If I did, I would say he’s certainly far exceeded them considering he didn’t have much of a spring training and he’s coming off of surgery.”
Yet Young doesn’t consider his fast start a surprise. That shoulder injury that turned out to actually be a nerve issue did make him question his future in baseball. Young said earlier this year that he contemplated retirement when nothing seemed to be working. But after surgery alleviated the pain, he knew he had a chance to come back strong.
“When you’re out there competing, you expect to win,” he said. “I wouldn’t take the rubber, I wouldn’t take the ball if I didn’t expect to go out and compete and win. To say it’s surprising, after all the hard work and the time I’ve spent rehabbing, I’d say no.”
Young is the type of player who gives credit to coaches for the way they position his outfielders before praising himself, so he’s not about to brag about the way he has started the 2014 season. But after another strong outing, he will acknowledge that he and the Mariners have been a pretty good fit.
“I try not to evaluate at this point, but I’ll say this: I love it here, I’m grateful for the opportunity and I want to continue to make the most of it,” he said. “The Mariners took a chance on me, and I want to reward them for it and I want to get back to being the pitcher I once was.”
Young couldn’t quite match Beckett’s gem from a day earlier, but he was good enough Monday to again serve notice that he has no intention of giving up his spot in the rotation.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.