Staying with Mariners appeals to Young

After comeback campaign, veteran pitcher sure to draw interest this offseason

Staying with Mariners appeals to Young

SEATTLE -- Chris Young's season with the Mariners didn't begin the way he hoped. Nor did it end in quite the fashion he'd have drawn up, if given a choice.

But the six months between that start and finish were as good a time as the 6-foot-10 right-hander remembers having in baseball, and he'd love the chance to paint the complete picture with another go in Seattle if things work out in free agency this winter.

"I absolutely love it here," Young said before packing his gear and heading home to San Diego to spend the offseason with his wife and two kids. "This has been one of my most favorite baseball experiences. I love the team, love the staff, love the organization, love the city and my favorite Major League ballpark. There's not a negative here. This place is unbelievable."

In a year the Mariners proved to be one of baseball's biggest surprises with a 16-win improvement, Young stood tall at the forefront of that turnaround with a comeback season.

After struggling with arm issues since 2007 and not pitching at all in the Majors in 2013 while recovering from his third shoulder surgery, Young was released by the Nationals at the end of Spring Training and signed with Seattle just a few days before the regular season as general manager Jack Zduriencik looked to bolster a rotation missing Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker due to injuries.

When veteran southpaw Randy Wolf balked at the notion of signing a 45-day advance consent notice that would have allowed the Mariners out of his one-year contract in mid-May if things didn't work out, Young quickly agreed to the same sort of deal and then went about proving to be a steal as he went 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 30 games, ranking eighth in the American League with an opponents' .234 batting average and 21st among all starting pitchers in WHIP at 1.23.

The only downside for Young was a tough finish as he went 0-3 with an 8.35 in his final five outings. Manager Lloyd McClendon skipped his last start, believing the 35-year-old had simply run out of gas after pitching his most innings since 2007, when he was a National League All-Star for the Padres.

But even that rough patch was met with a head-up approach from the lanky Princeton graduate, who acknowledged hitting a dead-arm period in late August, but felt he worked through that and could have helped as needed if the Mariners had reached the postseason.

"I think it happens," he said of his late-season rough patch. "You look across baseball and almost every pitcher goes through it. I think Felix [Hernandez] went through it. I think Iwakuma went through it. I think that's normal, especially in my circumstances with having thrown to that point basically 15 straight months from the time I started my rehab last year, continuing through the offseason and Spring Training and into the season. It was a lot of volume, but necessary."

Necessary in Young's situation, because he had to show teams he was worth a look last winter after undergoing surgery to repair a nerve-blocking condition called thoracic outlet syndrome that he believes now was the cause of years of shoulder problems.

But that's exactly why he believes he'll be even better next year, given this will be the first winter in recent memory when he can actually work on getting stronger over the offseason rather than rehabbing and recovering from surgery or lingering shoulder issues.

Zduriencik said Seattle will again be looking for a veteran starter to bolster a rotation that returns Hernandez, Iwakuma, Walker, James Paxton and Roenis Elias. But Young figures to have more suitors and an increased price tag in free agency, given his 2014 showing.

"We'll see what happens," Young said. "I'm excited with what I accomplished and finishing the season healthy. I'll take a little time off now and then get back to being able to actually have an offseason to train and strengthen vs. rehab. I'm excited about that. I feel like next year will be a great season to build on this one in terms of being 100 percent, fully strong and healthy and having a base built up before I come in."

Young started 29 of his 30 games because his long-awaited return to the Majors was delayed because of poor field conditions in Oakland in what was slated to be his first start since 2012. Instead, the Mariners skipped his initial start and he wound up pitching in relief his first appearance before finally getting his shot -- and throwing six scoreless innings -- on April 13 against the A's in Seattle.

Young handled that initial delay the same way he finished up, saying he only worries about things he can control and that he simply gives his best effort any time he's handed the ball. And when the season ended with Seattle one win shy of tying for an AL Wild Card spot and its first postseason berth in 13 years, the veteran pitcher finally took time to step back and appreciate the big picture.

"It was obviously disappointing that we weren't a game better," he said. "You look at the course of a season, 162 games, how many times we gave one away or could have had one. It will certainly serve as motivation for all of us to work hard and realize the importance of just one single game. Whether it's April or September, it doesn't matter. A game is a game. But it was such a fun ride. A great group of guys, a great coaching staff. Just one of the most fun seasons I've ever been a part of.

"The character in the clubhouse, I said it early on, but it reminded me of the successful teams that I was on before. This team was as good as any I've been on and I just felt if we could find a way in, you never know what might have happened. We had the talent to get it done and we played good teams pretty well. But that's baseball. I'm just so thankful for the experience."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.