During the Mariners latest homestand, manager Lloyd McClendon called pitcher Chris Young a "godsend." He dubbed Young's first two months of 2014 "phenomenal," and added that he didn't have any more adjectives to describe the 10-year veteran.
Young has emerged as an early frontrunner for MLB Comeback Player of the Year, posting a 5-2 record and a 3.27 ERA in 10 starts (11 appearances). In his past two outings, he is 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA over 12 1/3 innings. He'll take the hill at Tropicana Field against the Rays on Friday, when the Mariners try to extend their five-game winning streak.
"I'm just trying to go out and make good pitches. It's redundant and I know I say it every time, but it's what I try to do," Young said. "Physically, I feel good. I feel like my breaking ball has gotten a little better, and there's pretty good life on the fastball. Whether that means stronger or what, I'm just trying to get everything in sync and make good pitches."
The 6-foot-10, 255-pound right-hander made just nine Minor League starts last season (6.81 ERA) while dealing with surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, a rare nerve ailment that creates pain in the shoulders and neck.
The Nationals released Young, 35, late in Spring Training despite solid numbers in the Grapefruit League. The former All-Star (2007 with the Padres) signed with the Mariners a few days later, then seized his chance when injuries crippled their starting rotation.
"He's awesome, probably the most prepared pitcher I've ever played behind. When he goes to the mound, you know he's prepared and is confident in what he's going to throw up there," utility player Willie Bloomquist said. "It just goes to show you don't have to have 96 [mph] in the bag to go out and be an effective pitcher. He's done a great job of that this year, and he's fun to play behind."
Young will oppose another 35-year-old veteran, as the Rays send Erik Bedard to the mound. Bedard is 1-4 with a 4.02 ERA in seven career starts (eight appearances) against the Mariners. He spent three seasons in Seattle (2008-11) before the Mariners shipped him and closer Josh Fields to the Boston Red Sox in a three-team trade that included the Dodgers in July 2011.
The Rays' losing streak extended to 10 games Thursday, when they fell, 11-6, to the Marlins at Tropicana Field.
Bedard has struggled of late too, going 0-3 with a 5.03 ERA in his last four starts after a solid start to the season.
"Honestly, he's not throwing a whole lot differently is the point," manager Joe Maddon said. "Even when he's going well, I see very little difference in his stuff and how he's going about his business."
Mariners: Smoak expected back at first
First baseman Justin Smoak wasn't in the starting lineup for the first time this season Wednesday, though he did pinch-hit late in the game and popped out.
Manager Lloyd McClendon expects to have the 27-year-old back in the lineup for Friday's series opener at Tropicana Field.
With the Thursday off-day, McClendon wanted to give Smoak back-to-back days to rest a sore quad muscle that has been bothering him in recent days.
After hitting .250 through April, Smoak entered Wednesday batting .185 in the past month. He is 1-for-11 on the current trip, and his average has dropped to .211.
McClendon said the quad has been bothering Smoak for "quite a while," as the big first baseman was the only Mariner to have played in each of the team's first 58 games.
"I think fatigue has something to do with that," McClendon said of Smoak's extended slump. "This will give him a chance to freshen up, and hopefully that will quicken his bat up a little."
Rays: Reigning AL Rookie of the Year out
Outfielder Wil Myers will be out at least the next five to six weeks after sustaining a stress fracture in his right wrist last weekend against the Red Sox.
Myers, who won the AL Rookie of the Year Award last season, won't need surgery, but will wear a cast, then be reevaluated with an MRI exam likely sometime in July. If all goes well, he'll then begin a rehab program before rejoining the Rays.
Myers was injured last week at Fenway Park when he ran into outfielder Desmond Jennings while chasing A.J. Pierzynski's game-winning triple in the 10th inning of the Red Sox' 3-2 win.
"Of course it's no fun," Maddon said of Myers' injury. "We were counting on him a lot to provide power and RBIs and actually hit for a good average. He does all of those things. And I've been preaching about it all year, but his defense has gotten better. His baserunning keeps getting better."
• Tampa Bay won two of three games against Seattle in a Safeco Field series in May, and the Rays hold a 24-14 advantage over the Mariners since 2010. The Mariners haven't won a series at Tropicana Field since 2008, when they went 2-1. Since then, the Rays have won 15 of 21 games against them at The Trop.
Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.