SEATTLE – Chris Young showed up to spring training as a 6-foot-10 mystery.
His track record showed two divergent pasts: On the one hand, Young was once an All-Star starting pitcher. On the other, he hadn’t pitched more than 100 innings in a season in four years and missed all of the 2012 season because of injuries.
Even Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t know what to expect from Young heading into the 2014 season.
But Young has surprised McClendon and many others this season. He turned in six innings of two-hit baseball in a 6-3 win against the Blue Jays on Tuesday that put the Mariners in a tie with the Detroit Tigers for the second wild card spot.
Young nearly stepped away from baseball last summer because of severe shoulder pain. The pain got to the point that Young seriously considered closing the curtain on his baseball career.
But he had surgery on his shoulder, and the pain went away. The biggest indicator? He could sleep on his right side again. He said earlier this year that he hasn’t felt this good in five or six years, even if he never fully regained the velocity he once had.
That has led Young to have one of baseball’s most surprising seasons. Young lowered his ERA to 3.20 this season after giving up just one run on two hits against the Blue Jays, and he picked up his 11th win of the season.
Young’s night started off rocky. He walked the first batter he faced, then gave up a double to Melky Cabrera that gave the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead.
But Young quickly settled into a rhythm and methodically silenced Toronto. He retired 14 straight batters at one point, and he never faced serious danger the rest of the night.
McClendon said before the game that the Mariners have closely monitored Young’s workload this season. He is 35 years old with a history of injuries, and he has never thrown 180 innings during a season in his career. McClendon said the Mariners have focused more on limiting Young’s pitch count than his innings. He has thrown 121 innings this season; he hasn’t thrown that many since 2007, when he was an All-Star.
Things got interesting in the eighth inning. Brandon Maurer, who has been so effective since moving to the bullpen earlier this season, allowed one run to score after giving up two singles and a double.
McClendon pulled Maurer in favor of lefty reliever Joe Beimel, who inherited runners on second and third with one out. Beimel gave up one run on a sacrifice fly to the warning track, but he escaped the inning without further damage and kept the Mariners in the lead.
Fernando Rodney closed out the win after a Blue Jays’ error in the eighth inning gave the Mariners an insurance run.
Logan Morrison extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a single in the third inning. He scored on a single from Austin Jackson that resulted in an error on Blue Jays’ center fielder Colby Rasmus, who let the ball bounce away from him and then threw it to the backstop.
Dustin Ackley then delivered the night’s big hit with a two-run single to left field that gave the Mariners a 4-1 lead.
Perhaps the most intriguing development of the night, though, was Kendrys Morales’ solo home run to lead off the sixth inning. It was only Morales’ second home run this season and his first as a Mariner. He went 63 at-bats in a Seattle uniform before homering.
Morales, who entered the game hitting just .164 since joining the Mariners, also doubled in the eighth inning. That ultimately led to a Mariners run after James Jones pinch ran for Morales and scored on a wild pitch and a throwing error.