Nationals notes: Chris Young plays catch-up in camp

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VIERA, Fla. — Chris Young didn’t sign with the Washington Nationals until Feb. 21, nine days after pitchers and catchers had reported to camp and begun the slow process of building toward the season. So the 6-foot-10 right-hander is a bit behind the rest of the group.

Young did take an important step toward being game-ready Wednesday when he threw his first live batting practice of the spring.

“It’s a start,” Young said Thursday afternoon. “To have a hitter in there gives you a little bit of a frame of reference, idea of the strike zone. It’s a little challenging with the cage and the screen there but nonetheless it’s the first step toward a real environment. It’s just part of the process.”

Young faced a group that included catchers Wilson Ramos and Jhonatan Solano and infielder Will Rhymes — who actually may have presented the biggest challenge, as he is more than a foot shorter than the supremely tall Young.

While Young’s height can be intimidating for hitters, particularly when he’s on the mound and the ball is coming at such a dramatic downward plane toward the plate, Rhymes said his height makes the strike zone so small, it’s tough on Young, too.

The right-hander did not want to put a percentage on how close he felt or how much effort he was expending in the session, given how gradual the process is.

“You try to go at it with a good intensity,” Young said of his live batting practice session. “But as the games and competitive situations come along, the intensity increases and you sort of get more and more into it.”

The Nationals plan to get Young into a game Sunday, following Ross Detwiler to the mound against the Cardinals. Young said he felt fairly ready to take that step.

He will take over Detwiler’s spot in the rotation when the left-hander leaves camp to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic. Young has an opt-out clause in his contract that he can exercise March 24 if he does not think he will make the major league roster and does not want to go to the minor leagues.

Abad in bullpen mix

While the Nationals have a pretty good idea of the 25 players they’ll be taking north with them at the end of the month, the one slot with a small bit of flexibility is the final spot in the bullpen. One left-hander who could be in the mix there is Fernando Abad.

A 27-year-old Dominican Republic native, Abad came up in the Houston Astros organization and has had mixed results in his major league career. As a rookie in 2010, Abad posted a 2.84 ERA in 22 appearances as a reliever. But over the next two seasons, he appeared in 66 games and worked to a 5.76 ERA.

The Nationals are impressed with his arm, though, and manager Davey Johnson, applying the old theory that left-handers take longer to develop, said the team will “take a good look at him. He’ll be around here awhile.”

“I was really impressed with the way he threw the other day,” Johnson said. “I’ve always liked his arm and the way he attacked the hitters [Thursday], he threw a couple good curveballs, that was great, command was good. [Pitching coach Steve McCatty] wanted him to go another inning I said, ‘No, I want to see that [Friday].’ He’ll come back with one day off and he’ll throw again. I was real pleased with that.”

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