Young’s spring debut helps shut door on rough ’16 season

Chris Young is among a trio of candidates for the Royals' final rotation spot.
Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

SURPRISE, Ariz. — The end of last season and the start of spring training could not come soon enough for Chris Young.

After a disappointing 2016, the Royals’ veteran right-hander made his first spring training start Thursday with two scoreless innings in Kansas City’s 3-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

“It was definitely their ‘A’ lineup,” manager Ned Yost said. “Chris threw the ball really, really well. He changed speeds really well. His slider was really good. He moved his fastball around. He used it effectively up. He did a nice job.”

Young walked Charlie Blackmon to lead off the game, and Blackmon went to third on Carlos Gonzalez’s hit-and-run single. But Young stranded both.

Young said he thought shortstop Alcides Escobar was covering the bag on Gonzalez’s ground-ball single, but second baseman Raul Mondesi made a couple of steps toward second when Blackmon took off.

“I think he broke with the runner, otherwise it would have been a pretty good ground ball right to him,” Young said.

Chris Denorfia’s floater to shallow left in the second was the other hit Young allowed. Young said it “was a good piece of hitting by Denorfia on a slider that was in the dirt.”

“Greg Maddux used to tell me when we played together, ‘That’s how you want to give up hits. You don’t want to give up the hard ones, just the soft ones. That means you made a pretty good pitch,'” Young said. “I can live with that.”

Young gave up a lot of hard hits last season, yielding 26 home runs in 56 innings in 13 starts before being sent to the bullpen. His last start was at Toronto on July 5, when he allowed four homers and six runs in 2 1/3 innings. He went 1-8 with a 7.39 ERA as a starter and 2-1 with a 4.13 ERA and two more homers in 32 2/3 innings in 21 relief appearances.

“Nobody can go back and relive the past,” Young said. “We’re all moving forward; that’s the goal.”

Young is among a trio of candidates for the final rotation slot. The other two are Nathan Karns and Travis Wood, both of whom were acquired in offseason trades.

Young had offseason surgery to repair an abdominal muscle tear.

“There’s no lingering effect from the offseason surgery,” said Young, who threw 22 strikes in 36 pitches. “I feel good. I’ll continue to go out and build up the endurance and strength and be ready April 3 when our season starts.”

Young turns 38 in May and this is the final season of his two-year extension with an option for 2018. He will make $5.75 million this year.

If he does not earn the fifth rotation slot, he proved in 2015 he can be a trustworthy long reliever and swing man.

His first spring training start was a positive step.

“There’s definitely room for improvement, but I’ll take it,” Young said. “I was just out there getting a feel, establish fastball command, get a feel for the breaking ball and just compete. That’s it.

“The slider was good. The fastball command was pretty good. Overall, a good day to get my feet wet. Everybody pitched well today.”