Chien-Ming Wang threw in the Nationals Park bullpen in front of Nationals coaches today, his first appearance in Washington this year as he has rehabbed from a strained right hamstring. Wang will join the Nationals soon, after he makes one more rehab start with Class AAA Syracuse.
Wang, who pitched into the ninth inning Monday at Syracuse, said he’s ready now to pitch in the majors, “but I need to follow the direction from the team.”
The question remains, how will he fit in? The Nationals’ starting rotation has a cumulative 2.55 ERA. Fifth starter Ross Detwiler seemed the preseason obvious candidate to move to the bullpen when Wang returned, but Detwiler has a 2.75 ERA and 28 strikeouts against 10 walks in seven starts. Wang has been making rehab starts to line up with Detwiler’s spot in the rotation.
Wang has watched the rotation and does not want to upset the starting five, so much so that he volunteered to pitch out of the bullpen if necessary.
“It’s really tough for me,” Wang said. “All of them and I, we’re close. As a teammate, I really don’t want to see that kind of situation but, like I said, I still need to follow the team, no matter what happens. Maybe they want me to be a bullpen guy. That’s what I’ve got to do.”
It would be difficult for Wang to pitch out of the bullpen, and the idea seems altogether unlikely. He returned last July after missing more than two years recovering from major shoulder surgery to repair a torn capsule in his shoulder. Wang takes longer than the typical pitcher to warm up. Still, he insisted he could pitch from the bullpen.
“It might be a question,” Wang said. “But I would like to try and I would like to help.”
Manager Davey Johnson did not rule out the idea, but he also reiterated his belief that Wang, when healthy, is one of the Nationals’ top five starters.
“I mean, I love his stuff,” Johnson said. “He’s got a great sinker. I love bringing a sinkerballer into the ballgame. But I look at him as a quality starter. That sinker works against a lot of clubs, left or right. I like what I saw in the spring, and I like what I’m seeing now. He’s moving good. He’s bouncing off the mound good.
“Needing to worry about where all the places are in the rotation and the bullpen is premature,” Johnson added. “Hopefully, nobody gets injured between now and then, and we’ll be dealing from strength. But I never waste anytime figuring out what I’m going to do it until the time comes.”
Wang said he feels excellent, especially after his last start. He considered reaching 100 pitches in his start Monday “a landmark.” The Nationals will be able to buy time to make their decision by waiting one more start, and also give Wang a chance to bounce back from a full outing.
“Giving him that other start I think is going to get him a little bit stronger, so when he comes in he’ll come in kind of on an even keel with everybody else,” Johnson said. “Everybody else in the starting rotation is throwing the heck out of it. There’s no real rush to make that change.”