PEORIA, Ariz. -- His first inclination was to stay in the game and keep pitching. Even as the blood dripped from his face and while he felt dazed, Chris Young was sure he wanted to remain in the game.

This was, really, Young's first thought as he sat on the mound the night of May 21 after being hit in the face by an Albert Pujols ball up the middle, a line drive hit hard enough that Young had no time to duck and cover.

"The first thing I remember was looking down and seeing that blood was everywhere," Young said. "I had no idea where the ball had hit me. I did not know if it was above my eyes, my nose or where. I didn't know if I had teeth on the ground."

Yet Young's first thought was to finish the inning.

"I sat down on the mound and remember thinking things were OK and that I could keep pitching," he said. "I wasn't seeing two [double vision] and thought that if they [the team medical staff] could close it up quickly, I could keep on pitching."

The impact of the Pujols line drive left Young with a fractured nose, facial fractures, a deviated septum and, worst of all, a small crack in his skull that, as he found out later, could have led to much bigger problems.

"I found out it was a skull fracture and I had to shut it down for eight weeks and that I couldn't exert myself until the skull healed. I think that's when it hit home, for me and my wife, that it was a lot more serious than we thought," Young said.

Serious, but not something Young couldn't overcome. Or, something he wouldn't allow to beat him.

Roughly eight weeks after being hit, Young was making rehabilitation appearances. On July 29 at PETCO Park, he climbed back on the mound at home and threw five shutout innings against Arizona. It was like he never left.

Young wasn't gun-shy in the least; he didn't pitch around contact or flinch when a ball left the bat. He treated that incident in May for what it was and simply got back to what he's always done best -- compete.

"He's so mentally tough, [the incident] was never a factor," said teammates Adrian Gonzalez. "He's so prepared and he knows what it takes to have success. You knew that it was behind him [when he returned]. It a way, he used it to his own benefit."

Young went 3-2 over the final month of the regular season, posting a 2.38 ERA for a team that went on to lose 99 games. It was almost like those two-plus months away from the game didn't affect him whatsoever.

"It's part of the game. It happens," Young said. "I had three years in a row where I made 30 or so starts. Hopefully I'll get back to that this year. Sometimes these things are unavoidable. ... Last year was a freak injury. I came back and now I want to build on that."

And, perhaps, regain his place as, what many regard, one of baseball's most underrated and possibly undiscovered talents.

"A couple of years ago when he started out 7-0 or 8-0, 8-1, I thought he would be a Cy Young candidate. He's got that kind of stuff. If he's able to make 30, 35 starts, I can see this guy winning 15 to 20 games," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said.

"I don't think we've seen the tip of the iceberg with this guy yet. If he stays healthy, I think he'll be a Cy Young candidate."

Consider the evidence: Since being acquired from the Texas Rangers prior to the 2006 season, Young is 27-19 with a 3.44 ERA in 79 starts, including a 7-6 mark last season when he made 18 starts.

And then there's this: Since the beginning of the 2006 season, no Major League pitcher with at least 300 innings allowed a lower opposing batting average than Young has (.204). Consider the next-closet pitcher, Johan Santana, has a .224 average against him, followed by teammate Jake Peavy (.226).

"He's got the right head, he's got the stuff; when he's healthy and on ... he dominates good lineups," Towers said. "He's a special player and a special person. We knew that when we got him. We heard such great things about his makeup, demeanor and poise."

Aside from making the 2007 National League All-Star team, Young seldom gets much mention among the top pitchers in the game. Injuries, of course, have taken him away from the game for a spell.

In 2007, Young made 30 starts but missed time with a nagging oblique injury. Young finished 9-8 with a 3.12 ERA in 173 innings. Then last season was the line drive to the face that caused him to miss nearly nine weeks.

"I'm definitely hungry. I was motivated during the offseason," Young said. "I want to get back out there. I want to pick up where I left off and stay healthy. I want to help this team win. We're as capable as any team in our division.

"I think the time away also showed me how much I love playing and love the game and that I love my teammates. It was my first extended time on the disabled list away from my teammates and didn't feel like part of the team. It was really hard. It confirmed what a great group of guys we have here. I truly missed everyone."

Young has done his best to put the Pujols incident behind him. He has a small scar on the bridge of his nose. He had some sinus infections over the winter but feels confident that, with the help of antibiotics and an inhaler, those are over and done with.

Now it's back to pitching and competing. After all, that was his first instinct after being hit with the Pujols line drive and it's certainly his primary instinct now, as he prepares for the start of another season.

"It gave me some perspective and motivated me," he said. "I wasn't going to let this injury get the best of me or be the defining moment of my career. That was one little incident in my career but I was able to jump back on the mound and was able to be a successful pitcher."