Chris Young, the Princeton-educated, 6-foot-10 right-hander, turns 35 in two weeks. For much of last year, he sat and wondered if his career might be over. For most of his eight innings of work Saturday, his fastball sat at 85 mph.
Young made his 165th career start Saturday, his sixth for the Mariners. The Kansas City Royals scratched out one run and three hits against him.
After delivering the Mariners’ 3-1 victory before 29,359 spectators at Safeco Field, in his favorite major-league ballpark, in his longest outing in nearly six years, Young thanked just about everyone but the bat boy. He didn’t forget his St. Louis surgeon.
“I’m happy. I’m happy we won, that’s first and foremost,” Young said.
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Young threw 96 pitches, with three strikeouts and no walks, in his longest start since Sept. 7, 2008, when he tossed a complete game for the San Diego Padres against Milwaukee. Shoulder injuries have limited him every year since.
Now, he’s 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA for the Mariners, and his right arm “feels like it did when I was young.”
The Royals’ prized young starter, 22-year-old right-hander Yordano Ventura, could not have a profile more different from Young. Ventura, all of 180 pounds, hit 100 mph on the Safeco radar gun at least once, and “It looks like he’s playing catch,” said Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak.
The Mariners got just enough of Ventura thanks to Smoak’s two-run home run in the fourth inning, off a low fastball pulled deep to right field. It was Smoak’s fifth homer of the season and he has a team-leading 24 RBI. It gave the Mariners a 2-1 lead.
In the sixth, Dustin Ackley added his second home run of the season, a solo blast on a high changeup.
“That guy provides the power for you. If you can just get the barrel to the ball, hopefully everything takes care of itself,” Smoak said.
The Royals had scored their only run off Young in the third inning after Mike Moustakas tripled down the right-field line. Right fielder Michael Saunders hyperextended his knee on the play, falling as he tried to retrieve the ball near the side wall. He left the game after that half inning, replaced by Stefen Romero.
Alcides Escobar’s sacrifice fly scored Moustakas to give the Royals the 1-0 lead.
Young allowed just two singles after that. Fernando Rodney closed it out with a more-or-less stress-free save, his 11th to tie for the American League lead.
Young credited veteran catcher John Buck, with whom Young worked with for the first time.
“Two older guys out there, we had fun.”
Four days before the season opener, the Mariners signed Young to a one-year deal to help stabilize the back end of a rotation hit by a rash of injuries. At the time, it appeared to be a temporary move, and Young agreed to sign a 45-day advanced release clause one-year contract — the same clause another veteran pitcher, Randy Wolf, declined to sign in spring training, necessitating the Young signing.
That 45-day window comes up for Young on Wednesday.
“The money doesn’t come into consideration for me,” Young said. “I love the game. The opportunity to play the game and to be in the major leagues, I felt confident that, if I’m healthy, my performance will take care of itself. I believe in myself. I believe in the way I prepare and the way I work, and I believe in the people around me.
“I felt like, you know, you can’t go into something preparing for the worst. I was willing to take that chance, and hopefully it’s paid off.”
Last June, Young had surgery to repair a thoracic outlet decompression that was causing the issues with his shoulder. Saturday, he thanked Dr. Robert Thompson, the director of the Washington University Center for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in St. Louis, for diagnosing the issue.
Until then, “I was resigned to the fact that, ‘OK, I’ve had shoulder issues and my shoulder can’t take it anymore. I’ve gotten the most out of it,’” he said.
Now, he said his arm feels “normal” for the first time in about five years.
“He keeps getting better and better,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We’re aware this guy’s coming off surgery and a very limited amount of spring training. So what he’s doing is really remarkable, to command it so early like he is.”
Young sees things getting better for the team, too.
“It’s a great group of guys in here,” Young said. “The chemistry reminds me of some of the really good, winning team I’ve been on — playoff teams.”
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org