CINCINNATI -- When the 2019 season opened, Alex Young was pitching in relief for the D-backs’ Triple-A affiliate in Reno.
Five months later, in the heat of a Wild Card chase, and in front of 40 friends and family, Young set a club record for strikeouts by a rookie as he fanned 12 Reds in a 2-0 victory at Great American Ball Park on Saturday.
“Every time family comes out here, you get a little adrenaline rush and you want to do a little bit better,” Young, an Illinois native, said. “It was awesome to perform like that in front of them.”
While the Reds may be playing out the string, the D-backs suddenly have a postseason berth within reach.
Arizona has won 11 of its last 12 games and sits 1 1/2 games behind the Cubs, who currently hold the National League’s second Wild Card spot.
Young (7-3) allowed just a pair of infield hits and a walk over eight innings.
“It was really just mixing up pitches,” Young said. “I threw a lot of offspeed, a lot of cutters. That was mainly the game plan. They’re a really good hitting team. This is the first time they’ve ever seen me, but still that was the game plan going into this.”
Young, who pitched collegiately at Texas Christian University and was a second-round pick by the D-backs in the 2015 MLB Draft, opened the year in the Reno bullpen in part because the D-backs thought it might give him his best path to the big leagues.
“We wanted to keep versatility,” D-backs farm director Mike Bell said. “We wanted to give him every opportunity. At that time, the way our rotation was, the bullpen was probably where the opportunity would lie.”
Things began to change, though, during the first month of the season when the D-backs’ rotation depth was tested due to injuries and ineffectiveness. On May 12, Young joined the Reno rotation.
“We wanted to make sure he was stretched out,” Bell said. “We just wanted him to be as prepared as possible for what we’d need.”
On June 27, the D-backs needed a starter in San Francisco and Young was their choice. He made his big league debut by allowing one run on three hits over five innings.
Young’s next outing would come in relief before he rejoined the rotation for good. He’d had some really nice outings over the summer, but had never recorded seven innings until he blew past that Saturday.
Not only did the Reds not get many hits off Young, they didn’t take many good swings or hit balls hard.
“We were having trouble picking it up off him,” said Reds manager David Bell, brother of the D-backs’ Mike Bell. “It seemed like he just kept changing speeds. A lot of soft, softer and softer and he’d sneak the fastball in there. He did a good job. He really pitched a good game for them. He did everything he could. We just couldn’t make the adjustment. As he changed speeds, we weren’t able to make the adjustment.”
There’s a reason Young was so deceptive.
In recent starts, he has felt his mechanics slipping with the bite from his curve and the fade from his changeup not the same.
So Young dug up some old YouTube videos of when he pitched for TCU during his junior year, including a game in the College World Series. After taking a look at his younger self, Young and pitching coach Mike Butcher discovered the southpaw’s front shoulder was flying open this year.
By keeping his front shoulder closed a little longer, Young could get better extension with his arm and -- wait for it -- hitters would have a harder time picking up the ball because they wouldn’t see it as early.
It all added up to a big win not only in the standings but for the D-backs’ organization as a whole, from player development right up to the big league coaching staff.
“I couldn’t possibly be happier for somebody,” Bell said.