Bauman: Healthy Young a boon to Padres
Talented starter attempting to work his way back to rotation
MILWAUKEE -- The Padres' depth of quality pitching is such that, unlike many other postseason contenders, they don't have to carry on a semi-desperate late-season search for capable pitchers. But what a bonus it would be if Chris Young, an accomplished Major League starter, could come back in September.
That development looked less like a daydream and more like a possibility after Young threw a two-inning simulated game before Saturday's loss to the Brewers. It was a decent-sized step forward -- not a leap, but it was a necessary part of the process in getting Young back on the mound in 2010.
Young has been out since the first week of the season with a strained right shoulder. He threw six innings of one-hit, shutout ball in his one start of the season, a vivid reminder of how good he could be.
Young had thrown four bullpen sessions before leading up to this point, but the simulated game was on a distinctly different level -- as Young said, "back on a big league mound, in a big league environment."
The mound was at Miller Park, the time was 3 1/2 hours before gametime and the hitters were Matt Stairs and Everth Cabrera. Young threw fastballs, sliders and changeups -- and he threw without pain or any apparent restriction.
He threw with enthusiasm. You could say that Young performed with the joy of a child who had just rediscovered a favorite toy, except that children are so rarely 6-feet, 10-inches tall with a degree from Princeton. Suffice to say that Young was genuinely pumped.
"Physically, I felt good," Young said. "It was nice to feel that way, and I wasn't sure how it was going to feel. I felt good, actually, I felt I was getting stronger as I progressed. It was nice to get that additional adrenaline and test it."
He threw 38 pitches and appeared to have better command as he progressed. There may have been an occasional slider that didn't work out as planned, but as Young said with a smile, "Even when I'm going well, I still throw my fair share of bad breaking balls."
Next up, barring any setbacks, Young will probably throw another simulated game. He is clearly progressing, but the question is whether he will progress fast enough to be able to help the Padres' cause down the stretch.
"If he keeps progressing like he has been, the last, let's say, three weeks, it's not out of the question," said manager Bud Black.
As much as Young would like to be back on the mound and contributing in the season's most critical days, he's had more than enough experience with arm problems. He knows this is far from a matter of personal willpower.
"I guess the deadline is somewhat artificial for me, and it's the season," Young said. "As much as I want to push it and be back out there with the schedule and the season winding down, when I get back out there I've got to be healthy to help the club. In the back of mind, I've got this artificial deadline, but ultimately my arm's going to dictate that."
The outlook was bright enough on Saturday to include the distinct possibility of a return to action in September.
"I feel like I'm on the right track, and if things continue going to plan, I think there's going to be enough time," Young said. "With every day I get a little more excited, a little more optimistic. There's still a ways to go, but today was still a good test for it."
The Padres rebounded from two consecutive losses in Milwaukee to take Sunday's finale, and their overall situation remains promising. Leading the Majors in team ERA, San Diego one of the few contemporary teams that can be said to have enough pitching.
The Padres compiled the National League's best record around their strength in pitching and defense. The own a six-game lead over the Giants in the NL West. They do not have to rush Young back into action.
But anybody -- and that includes the Padres -- could still use a pitcher who can be as good as a healthy Young could be.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.