VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals’ newest starting pitcher is difficult to miss. A 6-foot-10 right-hander, Chris Young was easy to spot Friday morning as he popped his head into the dugout during the team’s workout. In the midst of his physical, Young couldn’t participate, but he was happy to be a member of the Nationals, a team he called “a model organization.”
“I think the opportunity to be a part of a winning organization (was one of the main factors in signing here),” Young said. “I’ve played against these guys for a while. It’s an extremely talented team. Certainly, that factored into the decision greatly.
“All things considered, I felt like it’s a place I wanted to be.”
Young, who signed a minor league deal with an invitation to major league spring training on Thursday, appears to have an opt-out in his contract. When asked if Young had expressed a willingness to go to the minor leagues if necessary, given the way the Nationals’ rotation is set barring injury, general manager Mike Rizzo said it was up to Young.
“We discussed that,” Rizzo said. “It’s his choice if he wants to go to Triple-A or not, but we’ve had some discussions. I think if it’s in his best interest to go there, he certainly will.”
Young declined to discuss whether or not he would agree to a minor league assignment, saying he’d prefer to “cross that bridge when I get there.”
“No matter where I am, I’ve got to pitch and pitch well,” Young said. “That’s my focus right now. All the other stuff is stuff I can’t control and stuff I won’t worry about. I’m just going to pitch the best that I can, wherever that is, and make the most of it.”
Young, who has spent recent years rehabbing from shoulder issues, said he’s feeling strong as he enters camp with the Nationals after an offseason of normal work instead of rehab. He was expected to throw a bullpen for pitching coach Steve McCatty on Friday afternoon and the right-hander said his arm strength feels better now than it did at the end of last season — the first season in which he’d thrown over 100 innings since 2008.
“That was a long, frustrating process,” Young said of the injuries. “It was sort of one long shoulder injury that I tried to deal with until I got to a point where I had to get it fixed. Once I got it fixed, the rehab went smoothly. I got back last year and got stronger as the season went. I’m really excited about where I feel for things right now.”
Young had to spend a good deal of time during his rehab fixing his mechanics because he’d altered them to compensate for his various injuries. He focused on mechanics this offseason, he said, which was a refreshing change “instead of counting throws and distances and stuff like that.” He felt the added attention to his mechanics helped him take some stress off his shoulder.
A former Expos player (as well as a Princeton alum and one-time possible NBA prospect), Young spent time in the minor leagues in Brevard County so Friday was a homecoming of sorts for him as he made himself comfortable in the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium.
As for the Nationals, Young was just the latest in their attempts to bolster their starting pitching depth. Rizzo said the team feels good about what they’ve been able to put together in that department, despite the struggles in doing so given how set the major league jobs in that department appear to be.
While it sounds like Young has an opt-out clause in his contract, Rizzo said Ross Ohlendorf does not have an opt-out. The Nationals also view guys like Yunesky Maya, Tanner Roark and Nathan Karns in that department. Christian Garcia could serve in that role as well, but the Nationals haven’t decided yet whether he’ll be a starter or a reliever and he’s been sidelined recently by a forearm/wrist strain.
“It’s part of our plan for the season, to be as deep as we can,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got a good, young pitching staff, but it’s hard to count on five starters throughout the whole season. So we’re taking precautions in case something were to happen that we’ve got a legitimate, quality major league pitcher in the fold.
“With the addition of Young and possibly some others down the road, we feel that we’re going to be protected in rotation depth.”