Michael Young relished the challenge. If you believe you are a good hitter, standing in the box against Felix Hernandez is the essence of what makes baseball great.
“It’s a chess match,” Young said. “It was hard, but that’s what you play for.
“I loved it.”
Young, retired after a 14-year big-league career, got that opportunity more than any other player. The All-Star infielder had 91 plate appearances against Hernandez and hit .279 (24 for 86) with a .691 OPS and three doubles. He struck out just eight times.
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In that chess match, Young always tried to make a first move.
“Usually with most pitchers, you wait until they adjust to you and then you adjust,” Young said. “But Felix was so smart and so competitive, I felt like I needed to make the adjustment first before he could. You try to look for certain counts and look for mistakes, but I wouldn’t say that always led to success.”
Young’s career spanned the maturation of Hernandez as a pitcher.
“I’ve seen all the versions of him,” Young said. “The first few years he was throwing upper 90s and just pumping fastballs at you. Then his command got better with the secondary stuff. Then his velocity went down to around 92-93 and he developed that split-change.”
That changeup with the split-finger movement was frustrating on many levels.
“It’s like it just came out of nowhere,” Young said. “One day he just showed up and had this changeup with unreal movement. We are all thinking, ‘Where the (expletive) did he get that?’ ”
Add that to a fastball that just moved so much, and it seemed unfair.
“I remember telling Elvis (Andrus) that he just threw me a cutter,” Young said. “Elvis said that he’s not trying to throw cutters, it just moves like that.”
Young recalls one at-bat in particular.
“I’m 0-2 and I know he’s throwing that change on the inside corner and it’s diving out of the zone,” Young said. “He got me with it in the previous at-bat. So I’m only going to look away and not get beat by the pitch. So he throws the pitch and it starts in and stays right there. It was a 95 mph fastball on the inside corner to ring me up. It’s a tip-your-cap pitch. I think he knew what I was thinking and adjusted.”
Young was effusive in his praise.
“To me, there’s Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez, and there’s everyone else,” he said. “I think it’s great that he stayed in Seattle.
“It’s good for baseball. My first year was 2001, I saw Seattle baseball at its best and what it’s like there.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373
On Twitter: @RyanDivish