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More on Young, plus a Chico update

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I drove out to Bowie on Tuesday night to check in with Class AA Harrisburg and catch up with Dmitri Young, who is trying to rehab his way back onto the Nationals’ big-league roster. You can read my full article from today’s paper here, but I also wanted to delve a little deeper into the “Dmitri Dilemma.”

As you may know, Young has been on the DL since Opening Day with a back injury. He agreed to stay in Viera when camp broke and try to get himself in shape so he could return to the majors. According to Dmitri, the Nats told him he’d probably only stay down there for two to four weeks, then go on a brief rehab assignment, then rejoin the Nats in mid-May. Well, it’s now almost mid-July, so clearly that didn’t happen.

Young insists he’s felt well enough to play since late April. Though he’s been dealing with a minor re-aggravation this week (it wasn’t a result of his playing on the field) he still believes he’s practically good to go. He wasn’t in the lineup Tuesday, but I can tell you from seeing him in person, he looks to be in relatively good shape. He’s definitely lost weight. He says his diabetes is under control. And he looked solid in the batting cage, spraying balls to left and right fields and even hitting a couple over the fence. At first base, he looks like … well, same as he always has. He’s no Nick Johnson. Then again, he’s no worse than Adam Dunn.

So what happens now? Well, the Nats aren’t saying. And frankly, I don’t believe they really know what’s going to happen. They’ve made a real concerted effort to ignore this situation, hoping to delay an inevitable decision until they absolutely must address it.

Dmitri, remember, was Jim Bowden’s guy. Bowden had him in Cincinnati years ago, and Bowden was the only GM in baseball who gave Dmitri another chance in 2007 after all his health and personal problems. In the midst of Young’s inspiring comeback season, Bowden gave him a two-year, $10 million extension.

Bowden, of course, is long gone. Mike Rizzo and the rest of the organization inherited Young, and I think it’s safe to say they wish he wasn’t their problem. Dmitri in no way fits in with the Nats’ long-term plan. And it’s not like they need another veteran first baseman at this point.

Young wishes the Nats would just trade him, preferably to an AL team that could use a DH. He feels like he’s been good to the organization, and they owe him a chance to play in the big leagues (whether here or somewhere else). The problem, though, is that it’s not like anyone else desperately wants him. Certainly not until he establishes that he can still hit big-league pitching. Which he can’t do unless the Nats activate him.

So you see what a conundrum this all is. One way or another, I believe we’ll have a resolution by the end of the month. Either 1) the Nats will trade Nick Johnson and activate Young to play first base the rest of the season, 2) find another team interested in him and make a deal, or 3) give him his outright release. I hate to say it, but it seems like option 3 is the most likely scenario.

Even though Dmitri didn’t play Tuesday night, I did stick around to watch Harrisburg and Bowie go toe-to-toe. I was particularly interested to see how Matt Chico looked in his latest start while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The lefty was not sharp at all. He lasted only 4 1/3 innings, allowed four runs and eight hits, while walking two and tossing two wild pitches.

That said, his velocity was pretty good. It varied, sometimes as low as 84 mph, but it did top out on more than one pitch at 91 mph. That’s harder than he ever threw in 2007 as a rookie.

Chico was understandably down on himself after the game, but he also understands this is all part of the recovery process. Even though his arm feels great, he’s finding out what every pitcher who has Tommy John finds out: You have to re-learn how to pitch all over again.

“I have only 22 innings under my belt now this year,” he said. “I’m sitting there thinking I want to compete. I want results. But I’ve got to remind myself, I’m just a year out of surgery. It’s going to take time to get everything flowing again.”

It’s amazing to think that less than two years ago, Chico was the most-promising young starter in the Nats’ system. He pitched all of 2007 in the majors at age 23 and wound up leading the staff in innings and starts. And he didn’t pitch all that poorly, either.

Now, he’s practically forgotten, having been leapfrogged by the likes of Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, John Lannan, Craig Stammen, Collin Balester, Shairon Martis and Garrett Mock. So what does that mean for Chico’s future with the organization?

“To be honest with you, I don’t really know,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got nine, maybe 10 guys ahead of me. I don’t feel like I’ve been forgotten. But in a way I have because I haven’t pitched. The thing is, I’m happy for all of them. I’m friends with every single one of them and I want to see them succeed.”

As it turns out, the pitcher who most impressed Tuesday night was the guy starting for Bowie: Brian Matusz. He’s the Orioles’ first-round pick from last summer, a left-hander out of the University of San Diego, and let me just say: Wow. Matusz allowed one infield single over eight innings, struck out 11 and didn’t walk a batter. In four starts now with Bowie, he’s 4-0 with a 0.34 ERA. I think we’ll be seeing him in Baltimore soon.

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Mark Zuckerman

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