Young riding high as season begins
Padres righty finally hits stride after recent adjustment
ANAHEIM -- Chris Young was beaming. It hasn't been a picnic in the park -- spring rarely is for the 6-foot-10 Princeton man employed as the Padres' No. 2 starter -- but he might have found something right on time.Pitching coach Darren Balsley, spotting a small flaw in Young's delivery, made a suggestion. The adjustment resulted in one of the right-hander's best bullpen sessions of the spring as the Padres were getting ready to engage the Angels in their final preseason game at Angel Stadium. "That was one of the better 'pens I've had in a while," Young said. "I wish I'd taken that stuff out to my games this spring.
"Bals made an adjustment. He thought my arm angle looked a fraction high, an inch or two. It's not like I was dropping down sidearmed. But all of a sudden, everything felt right."Tuesday, hopefully, it'll continue into the game." After Jake Peavy works the opener against the Dodgers at PETCO Park, Young will take the mound hoping to set the tone for a return to the consistent excellence of 2006 and 2007, when he was one of the game's premier starters. His 2008 was made all too painful -- and too brief -- by a line drive off the bat of Albert Pujols in May that left him with a nasal fracture and a laceration to the nose. After surgery corrected a deviated septum and repaired the fracture, Young returned to make eight starts, finishing 7-6 with a 3.96 ERA in 18 outings. His plan now is to recapture the form of '06 and '07, when was a combined 20-13 with a 3.30 ERA in 61 starts, joining Peavy in one of the game's dominant tandems. Young is aware of how the public and baseball insiders perceive the Padres, but he also understands that this is a game that creates stunning surprises season after season. We need dig no deeper in the history books than the 2008 Rays. "The bottom line is the expectations we set for ourselves are far greater than any expectations we have from outside," Young said. "We expect to go out and win. "It's important for us to get off to a good start. I think it would help tremendously if we get off to a good start. I hope I can pitch 32 to 35 games. If Jake and I can stay healthy for 65 to 70 starts, it gives our team a better chance. We have the bullpen and talent on the field. "People might not know our names, but it doesn't mean you can't be successful. Very few players arrive as superstars. It's something you earn over time. We expect to go out and win." In part because of his extraordinary size and the timing involved in making all the parts in his delivery mesh, Young traditionally has needed more time than most starters to find his rhythm and groove. A conversation with his first Padres manager, Bruce Bochy, in the afterglow of the 2006 trade that brought him to San Diego from Texas made an enduring impact on Young. "My first Spring Training here after the Padres traded for me, I was terrible," Young said. "I felt a little pressure to perform. Boch called me in his office and said, 'Nolan Ryan had awful Spring Trainings. He'd get knocked around all spring, and as soon as the season would start, he'd be back in form and have a big year.' "It was my first season on a new team, in a new league, and I was trying to impress. What I realize now is Spring Training results don't matter. It's how you feel coming out of it and going into the season that matters." Young will be happy to watch his Cactus League numbers (0-3, 12.96 ERA in 16 2/3 innings of seven outings) disappear into nothingness. Everybody starts 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA in April. "Every time you take the mound and somebody's in the batter's box, you want to get him out," Young said. "But there's something different about it when the lights come on and the season starts. Now, you're going into the game with a game plan, having watched video. You're prepared. "When I was in college, playing basketball, I seemed to play my best games against the best teams, like Kansas. It's the way I've always been, and I think I've carried that into my baseball career." Let the record show that in his one taste of postseason baseball, in 2006 in the National League Division Series, Young elevated to the occasion, slam-dunking the eventual World Series champion Cardinals. Going 6 2/3 innings in Game 3, his team's season on the line, Young shut out the Cardinals on four hits and two walks, striking out nine hitters. With a 3-1 win, those Padres lived to see another October day. The big man from Dallas hopes there are more big games and moments down the road -- whether the Padres' critics care to believe it or not.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.