BY SAM THOMSEN
Chris Young is a walking oxymoron.
He defies his last name, as a grizzled, wily nine-year major-league veteran and a pitcher who has transformed himself.
He’s a giant, standing tall at 6 feet 10, but he flings a wimpy 85 mph fastball.
He produced a magical season for the Mariners, worthy of a Comeback Player of the Year award.
Rewind to April when Young staggered into the M’s rotation as a dejected afterthought. He was supposed to fill a gap while Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton healed from injuries. He was 2014’s Kevin Millwood or Aaron Harang.
He hadn’t pitched in a Major League Baseball game for two years, was coming off shoulder and neck surgeries and had been released by the Washington Nationals just weeks earlier.
However, for the M’s, Young was this year’s extra $20 dollar surprise in the stocking.
His underwhelming fastball produced overwhelming results, as he deceived hitters by changing location and speed.
In the new baseball era, where much of the focus is on speed, Young has shown effective pitching isn’t just a matter of how hard you throw, or about striking guys out. It’s about control: getting outs however you can. Pop-ups and grounders do the job just fine, thank you.
And that’s exactly what he did, posting a solid 3.35 earned-run average and a 12-7 record.
Yet despite Young’s emergence this season, his last two starts were appalling. In those two starts, his ERA skyrocketed while opposing hitters pounded in eight earned runs over 4.1 innings. Young was a different pitcher: uncomfortable and overmatched.
If you look at the big picture you’ll see why. Young is fading quickly – more quickly than his fastball reaches home plate. To date in 2014, he’s thrown 151 innings, 41 innings more than he threw in all of 2012, his last year of big-league ball. His arm and body are incredibly fatigued. His performance last weekend, when he labored through five innings, throwing 95 pitches and walking three, was better but still worrisome.
If the Mariners are to actually earn a wild-card playoff birth – and they’ve got a shot at it for the first time since 2007 – they cannot afford another terrible start from Young.
It’s time to move Young to the bullpen. Ease his strain and keep him producing, but fill his spot in the starting rotation with Taijuan Walker, who’s time may have finally come.
The Mariners recalled Walker on Monday, his third stint with the M’s this season. His previous struggles with control vanished Monday when Lloyd McLendon pushed him out to the mound to start the second inning, following Young’s meltdown.
Walker pitched with poise, aggression and supreme confidence. As usual, he lit up the radar gun with a 97-mph fastball, but this time, he showed precise command, complemented by a curveball that dropped off the table. He fired six stellar innings, allowing only one run while striking out five.
On that day, Walker lived up to the hype that followed him through the minor leagues. Now it’s time to give him a shot in the starting rotation, where he has the very real chance to bolster the team’s sagging starters with fresh energy, intensity and fearlessness.
Sam Thomsen, 16, is a junior at Liberty Bell High School in Winthrop whose passions are baseball, the Mariners and writing. He has been following the Mariners since he could walk and has written several previous posts for Take 2, including one on Oct. 30, 2013 that urged the Mariners to sign Robinson Cano, more than a month before it happened.
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