VIERA, Fla. -- For months, there has been concern within the Nationals organization about the lack of viable pitching depth should one of their five starters succumb to injury.
If Chris Young is finally healthy after a long battle with shoulder trouble -- and if he's willing to report to Class AAA when camp breaks in a month -- the Nationals might just have their much-needed No. 6 starter.
"As far as I'm concerned, he steps into that role," manager Davey Johnson said. "If anything happens to any of my starters, he'd be right at the top of the list."
Young, who agreed to a minor-league contract yesterday, arrived at Nationals camp today. The 33-year-old right-hander took a physical and was scheduled to throw a bullpen session in front of team officials, then officially join the club for the remainder of the spring.
What happens between now and the end of the spring remains to be seen. Young first must prove his surgically repaired shoulder is healed once and for all after being limited to an average of 12 starts over the last five seasons. Then he must decide if he's willing to head north to Syracuse and wait for a potential (though in no way guaranteed) call from Washington.
General manager Mike Rizzo said Young has an "out" clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent if he doesn't make the big-league roster. Assuming all five current members of the rotation remain healthy, he won't make the roster, leaving his fate in his own hands.
"I'll cross that bridge when I get there," Young said. "Right now, I just felt like [I want] to be part of a winning culture, a winning environment. For me, it's really just about going out and pitching. No matter where I am, I've got to pitch and pitch well. That's my focus right now. All the other stuff is stuff I can't control and stuff I won't worry about."
"It's his choice if he wants to to Triple-A or not, but we've had some discussions," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "I think if it's in his best interest to go there, he certainly will."
The 6-foot-10 Young strikes an imposing figure on the mound, and he's firmly established himself as a successful big-league pitcher when healthy, owning a 53-43 record and 3.79 ERA in 159 career starts with the Rangers, Padres and Mets and earning an All-Star nod in 2007.
Originally a 2000 draft pick by the Pirates out of Princeton -- where he played basketball for John Thompson III -- Young was an Expos farmhand in 2003 and pitched part of that season for the Class A Brevard County club that calls Space Coast Stadium home. He recognized a few familiar faces when he walked into the stadium again today, but more than anything was impressed with how far what he called "a model organization" has come.
"I've played against these guys for a while," he said. "It's extremely talented. Certainly, that factored into the decision greatly. All things considered, I felt like it's a place I wanted to be."
Young is optimistic his shoulder troubles are a thing of the past, and points to his strong finish to 2012 with the Mets -- he posted a 2.73 ERA in September and finished with four consecutive quality starts -- as evidence he's back to his old self.
"That was a long, frustrating process," he said. "It was sort of one long shoulder injury that I tried to deal with until I got to a point where I had to get it fixed. Once I got it fixed, the rehab went smoothly. I got back last year and got stronger as the season went on. I'm really excited about where I feel for things right now."
Young said he threw on his own during the offseason and believes he can step right in and appear in games for the Nationals almost immediately. Neither Johnson nor Rizzo was ready to map out a pitching plan for the right-hander until they saw him throw off a mound, but with both Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler slated to leave camp to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, there should be opportunities for the Nationals to see Young against big-league competition over the next month.
And if all works out as hoped, they'll have themselves a much-needed No. 6 starter waiting at Syracuse when needed.
"It's part of our plan for the season, to be as deep as we can," Rizzo said. "We've got a good, young pitching staff, but it's hard to count on five starters throughout the whole season. So we're taking precautions in case something were to happen: We've got a legitimate, quality major-league pitcher in the fold."