Enthusiastic Young making most of second chance
Once on verge of retiring due to injury, Nats pitcher healthy, competing for rotation
VIERA, Fla. -- It was June 2013, and Nationals right-hander Chris Young was on the disabled list because of a right shoulder injury. After dealing with the pain for four straight years and doing daily shoulder exercises, Young had his mind made up that he was going to retire from the game of baseball.
How bad was the shoulder injury? Young, now 34, couldn't sleep on the right side of his bed during those four years. In fact, he was resigned to the fact that he was going to have discomfort in the shoulder for the rest of his life.
"I said, 'Look, I had a good career. This is it. I just can't do it anymore. Physically, my body is not allowing me to do it,' " Young said to himself.
But a miracle happened that same month. After Young went on the disabled list at Triple-A Syracuse, Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih and the Syracuse medical staff believed Young did not have a shoulder problem after all. They had Young go to a neck specialist in St. Louis, and it was revealed he had thoracic outlet syndrome.
Young laughed with relief when the doctor went over the symptoms that he had. He had a pinched nerve in his neck, and that injury would cause pain in his shoulder. He would have surgery in his neck to fix the problem.
Now healthy for the first time in four years, Young can long toss and throw bullpen sessions with good effort, and he can sleep on his right side again.
"I've learned that when it comes to the body, especially the shoulder and arm, it's not black and white," Young said. "There is a lot of gray. I'm grateful I got in front of the right doctors who said this might not be a shoulder problem. After the surgery, I can say my shoulder feels normal, and it's a great feeling. I'm going to keep working and pitch as long as I can."
Compared to last year, Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty sees a difference in Young on the mound. McCatty noticed that Young is throwing the ball free and easy, and he believes he can go back to being the quality pitcher that he was several years ago with the Padres.
Young's best season was in 2006, when he went 11-5 with a 3.46 ERA in 31 starts. Young's fastball can go as high as 87 mph, according to McCatty.
"This year, the ball is coming out better. ... He is doing real well," McCatty said. "I like what I see."
On Monday, manager Matt Williams announced that Young will be competing against Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan for the fifth spot in the rotation, which comes as no surprise to general manager Mike Rizzo.
"Chris Young came to Spring Training feeling good, healthy. That's the big difference," Rizzo said.
As for Young, he is excited how his spring is going, and he credits the Nationals for giving him another chance to pitch in the big leagues and putting him with the right doctors.
"I'm excited about my health, I'm excited about the way the ball is coming out," Young said. "It's the first time in five years the shoulder has felt this good. It's pain free, and my stuff is significantly better than it's been. When I've been healthy in my career, I've performed pretty well. I just want to get back to being the pitcher I once was and believe I can still be."
Young also credits his wife, Liz, for being a great support system when it comes to helping him stay in the Major Leagues. Yes, after all Young as gone through in the last four years, there are days when Liz thinks he is crazy for trying to stay in baseball.
"[Liz] and my three little ones take my mind off of [things]. They keep me happy and keep me going," Young said. "As long as they believe in me, I will believe in myself."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.