Young named AL Comeback Player of Year

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red SoxFeeling he’d finally overcome a series of shoulder issues that had hindered much of his career, Chris Young just wanted a chance to pitch every fifth day and be part of a Major League rotation again after being released by the Nationals at the end of Spring Training.

But the 35-year-old right-hander did far more than that, putting together a strong 2014 season for the Mariners that resulted in Young being named The Sporting News American League Comeback Player of the Year on Monday.

“I am extremely honored,” said Young, who went 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 30 games (29 starts). “There are many deserving players who have demonstrated the commitment, dedication and perseverance to overcome similar obstacles and I am humbled to be recognized amongst them. The life lessons I have learned throughout this experience are invaluable and will stay with me the rest of my career.

“I hope that I can serve as inspiration to other players in the same manner in which I was inspired to pursue my comeback. I am extremely grateful to my teammates, coaches, the Seattle Mariners organization and my family, as each and every member contributed to my success.”

Young is the fifth Mariners player ever to earn the award and first since pitcher Gil Meche in 2003. Previous Seattle winners were Gorman Thomas (1985), Richie Zisk (1981) and Willie Horton (1979). The Sporting News has been selecting AL and NL Comeback Players since 1965.

MLB and the Players Choice Awards also name a Comeback Player of the Year, but those honors haven’t been announced yet for this past season.

Young provided a classic comeback story, having not pitched in the Majors at all in 2013 and finally solving shoulder issues that prevented him from pitching a full season since 2007, when he was an NL All-Star with the Padres.

“Chris was a big part of our success in 2014, really solidifying our rotation,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “To think he won as many games as he did, and made 29 starts, coming off the type of surgery and the injuries that he had, I think it’s just tremendous. He is a tireless worker and showed his determination with his performance. This is a very deserving award for him in every way possible.”

Young went 1-2 with a 6.81 ERA in nine Minor League starts for the Nationals in 2013, then was released by that club on the final roster cut this spring.

But after having surgery in June of 2013 to repair a nerve blockage in his chest and shoulder called thoracic outlet syndrome, Young said he finally felt at full strength for the first time in years. The Mariners signed him to one-year, $1.5 million base deal just four days before the start of the regular season and he wound up earning another $2.975 million in incentive bonuses by staying healthy and performing so well through the year.

The 6-foot-10 right-hander had the eighth-lowest opponents batting average in the AL at .234, was 21st in the league in WHIP at 1.230 and his 165 innings pitched were his most since 2007.

When healthy, Young has always been an effective Major League pitcher, owning a 65-52 record and 3.77 ERA over 10 seasons. But his shoulder problems have led to three surgeries and allowed him to make just 28 starts over the previous four seasons combined.

He exceeded that number for Seattle this year alone with his 29 starts, helping solidify the rotation for a club that finished first in the AL in ERA and improved by 16 wins to 87-75 in McClendon’s first season at the helm.

Though the increased workload finally seemed to catch up with Young at the end of the season when he went 0-3 with an 8.35 ERA over his last five outings, the 35-year-old finished third on the Mariners in wins and innings pitched behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and his 12 victories equaled his career high set in 2005 with the Padres.

“This is a tremendous and well-deserving honor for Chris,” said Mariners pitching coach Rick Waits. “He worked tirelessly and stuck to his routine to keep himself healthy and on the mound throughout the season. He had a breakthrough year making a comeback, but it wasn’t really that surprising to me. This is a testament to his resolve, patience, determination, hard work, his routine and his tireless study of opposing hitters.”

Young earned 49 votes from AL players to easily beat runner-up J.D. Martinez of the Tigers for the honor. Martinez had 22 votes, Scott Kazmir of the A’s was third with 14, followed by the Yankees’ Derek Jeter (11) and Toronto’s Melky Cabrera (6).

Miami’s Casey McGehee was the NL Comeback Player of the Year.

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