The pickup by Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik of Chris Young in the final days of spring training as Plan B continues to look wiser and wiser. Young’s eight-inning performance held the Kansas City Royals at bay and allowed two timely homers to decide a 3-1 Seattle win Saturday. It was Young’s longest outing since September 2008.
Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley provided nearly all the offense. Smoak delivered a two-run homer to right field in the fourth inning on a 97-mph fastball from rookie starter Yordano Ventura to give Seattle (19-17) a 2-1 lead. Ackley added a solo home run in the sixth inning, his second.
“He’s pretty good,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said of Young. “I’ve said all along, he’s a veteran guy, he knows what he’s doing. When he’s capable of executing his pitches, he’s very tough.”
The victory gives Seattle, which has won 12 of its last 16, an opportunity to win its fifth consecutive series Sunday, something it hasn’t done since May 2011.
Young (3-0, 2.63 ERA) was signed in the wake of spring training invitee Randy Wolf’s decision to not sign a 45-day advanced consent form after being told he made the team as the fifth starter. That left Zduriencik and his staff in scramble mode to find another option on short notice. Young was available on waivers after being released by the Washington Nationals and was willing to sign the consent form. Six starts later, it couldn’t be working out any better.
“He’s getting better every time out,” added McClendon. “We know this guy had surgery and a very limited amount spring training. So what he is doing is really remarkable to command it so early like he is.”
Young had the Royals so off balance that he splintered at least a half dozen bats. He ended up scattering three hits in his eight innings and allowed one run, which came in the third inning. Young struck out three and walked none.
Kansas City (17-19) scored its run when the struggling Mike Moustakas hit a one-out triple that eluded a sliding Michael Saunders. Alcides Escobar followed with a sacrifice fly. Saunders had to leave the game with a strained knee and is listed as day-to-day.
With the young Ventura (2-2, 2.34 ERA) on the hill, that may have been enough. But Ventura, who came into the game with a 2-0 record and 1.71 ERA in four road starts, didn’t have his best command, which allowed the Mariners to gear up for his high-90s fastballs.
He’s really good,” Smoak said of Ventura. “He throws 95-100 (mph) and it looks like he’s playing catch . . . (Ventura) supplies the power for you so if you can just get the barrel to the ball, hopefully everything else takes care of itself.”
For Smoak, 1-for-4 with his fifth home run and a team-leading 24 RBIs, it was an improved swing from the left side, one that has been slower to come around for him in 2014.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Smoak said of his left-handed swing. “But to get a pitch inside there and get the barrel to the ball, when the guy is throwing pretty hard, it felt pretty good.”
Seattle finished with seven hits, including two from Robinson Cano, who was 2-for-3 with a walk. Rookie James Jones, getting his first start at Safeco Field and first in the leadoff position, confidently went 1-for-2 with two walks.
“He had a nice night for us,” McClendon said of his new center fielder. “He’s a pretty talented kid. I wish I had that talent, I’d be pretty confident, too.”
Ackley, meanwhile, hit a missile to right-center with one of the better swings he’s had all season. It was another example of getting the barrel to a ball that is supplying all the power.
But the story of the night was Young and his continued incredible resurgence from his nerve surgery.
“I’m happy. I’m happy we won. That’s first and foremost,” said Young. “The defense was phenomenal, the positioning of the defenders by the coaching staff, the scouting department — this is a total team contribution, it wasn’t just me.”
It was the first outing in which Young and reserve catcher John Buck worked together. Young praised the veteran catcher for calling a great game.
“I just followed Bucky’s lead and shook him a couple times and gave up hits on those pitches . . . I learned my lesson,” Young said. “We had fun out there.”
3B Kyle Seager missed his second game game in a row with the flu. He was feeling better Saturday, but needed the extra day, according to McClendon . . . Home plate umpire Scott Barry suffered a right-hand injury after being hit by a wild pitch. Barry was replaced behind the plate by crew chief Jeff Nelson in the top of the fourth inning. X-rays were negative and Barry will be behind second base on Sunday.