Coming out of Spring Training, the No. 2-5 spots in the Mariners starting rotation weren't close to settled. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker were on the disabled list. Rookie left-hander James Paxton, now on the DL, had tantalizing numbers, but limited big league experience. Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, now with Triple-A Tacoma, was unproven, as was rookie southpaw Roenis Elias.
Then there was veteran Chris Young, who Seattle signed in late March, a few days after the right-hander was cut by the Nationals. The former All-Star was coming off surgery the previous summer to correct thoracic outlet syndrome and hadn't pitched a full season since 2007 with the Padres due to a series of shoulder problems.
In 2014, Young is 7-4 with a 3.15 ERA.
On Wednesday, the 6-foot-10, right-hander goes for his eighth victory when the Mariners look for a three-game sweep of the Astros at Minute Maid Park. He'll have the benefit of playing behind a suddenly surging Seattle lineup.
The Mariners used a seven-run sixth inning and a season-high 18 hits to cruise to a 13-2 win Tuesday after taking the series opener, 10-4. Tuesday's 13 runs were also a season-high. Seattle has won nine of its last 11.
Young, meanwhile, has gone 4-2 with a 2.68 ERA over his last seven starts. He picked up the win his last outing when Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon lifted him after five innings with a 2-1 lead after his pitch count reached 91. The Mariners went on to beat the Indians, 3-2.
McClendon is trying to be careful with the 35-year-old.
Young has a chance to win eight games for the first time since going 9-8 in 2007. Recently, he said he appreciates McClendon's cautious approach, even though he pushed to go out for a sixth inning against Cleveland.
"He has the best interest of the club in hand and that's what he said when he took me out," Young said. "I obviously was lobbying to go back out, but he said, 'Look, it's a long season and we have to look at the big picture here. We've got a great bullpen. He made the right decision and we won the game. He's done a heck of a job this year. I have complete respect for him. He's a great leader."
McClendon said Young's only issue in that outing was his climbing pitch count against a formidable lineup.
"I thought his stuff was as good as it's been all year," McClendon said. "He had some good changeups, a good fastball. That's a team that won 90 games last year. That's a veteran club and they know how to grind at-bats out. They just got his pitch count up."
Young will be making his fifth career start against the Astros and second this season. He's 3-0 with a 3.28 ERA in four prior meetings, including a seven-inning, no-decision in Seattle on April 23, when he allowed four hits and three runs with five walks and six strikeouts.
The Astros will counter with right-hander Brad Peacock (2-4, 4.21 ERA). Peacock was solid in the month of June, going 1-0 with a 2.91 ERA in four starts. Wednesday will mark his second start since a bout with food poisoning landed him in the hospital in the middle of the month. Peacock lost seven pounds, but recovered to post a quality start in his last outing (6 2/3 innings, two runs, one earned, on seven hits and two walks), as the Astros went on to beat the Tigers, 4-3, in 11 innings.
Mariners: Cano filling many roles for club
While Robinson Cano hit his second home run in his past two games in Monday's 10-4 victory over the Astros, McClendon continues saying the five-time All-Star's contributions go far beyond his power production.
Cano was tied for the AL lead in batting average with runners in scoring position (.371) going into Tuesday, then drove in three runs in Seattle's win. Beyond that, players like Kyle Seager and James Jones have attributed some of their success to learning from Cano.
"I think it energizes him," McClendon said. "I think he likes it a lot. It makes you feel good when you know the players respect your opinion. I think he cherishes his role as a leader on this team, particularly in the film room and on the field. You saw him go to the mound [Monday] night in a tough situation, a big situation, and encouraged the kid [Taijuan Walker] to make the pitch we're trying to get him to make and he got a strikeout. I think he cherishes that role."
Astros: Bass nearly back
Anthony Bass is back in Houston after his rehab stint at Class A Quad Cities.
Bass, a right-handed reliever, has been on the disabled list since May 11 with a right intercostal strain. He threw two rehab innings for Quad Cities on Sunday, allowing two hits and two runs, and his return to the Astros is imminent.
"He's here with us, he's ready to go," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "Right now we feel the extra lefty is more important. Bass was not able to pitch today anyway given that he was able to pitch two days ago. The soonest we'd be able to activate him would be tomorrow, but again, I think having three lefties in the bullpen for this series is more important for us."
Bass has appeared in 15 games for the Astros this year, going 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in 18 innings. He's allowed 17 hits and nine earned runs with five walks.
• The Mariners finished June with the second-best record in the AL at 18-10 and led the Majors with a 2.53 ERA. That was a club record for the best ERA for a month in franchise history, breaking the old mark of 2.80 in July, 1991. The bullpen also set a monthly club record with a 1.64 ERA, topping the old mark of 1.88 in June, 2012.
• Jose Altuve sent his cleats to Cooperstown after the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum asked for the pair he wore on Sunday, when he registered his fourth consecutive multi-steal game. Altuve was the third player to ever accomplish the feat, with the most recent being Ray Chapman in 1917.