For now, Chien-Ming Wang seems the clear favorite to become the Nationals’ fifth starter, if for no other reason than it paints the Nationals into a corner – they can’t trade until late May, they can’t send him to the bullpen because of his surgically repaired shoulder and they can’t send him to the minors without losing him.
The Nationals, then, are lucky they have been so pleased with how Wang has pitched this spring. Yesterday, Wang had an unsightly line in his first start in game action, allowing two runs, three hits and a walk in two innings against the Mets. But as he threw roughly 40 pitches, the Nationals saw Wang regaining, if not surpassing, his form from last fall.
“From the first pitch he threw, the ball was coming out of his hand with more authority than it was even last year at the end,” Johnson said. “As far as I was concerned, it was a great outing.”
Wang’s command “obviously wasn’t there,” Johnson said, but the Nationals are more interested in his arm strength at this point. Wang threw his fastball between 89 and 91 miles per hour with “good sink,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. One of Wang’s strikeouts came on a 2-2 curveball that “the bottom fell out of it,” Johnson said.
“That in itself tells me how he was feeling,” Johnson said. “If your arm is not feeling well, you can’t do that with a breaking ball.”
In his final 10 starts last season, Wang went 4-2 with a 3.70 ERA, striking out 23 and walking 12. He gained velocity and late bit on his sinker, the pitch that placed atop the Yankees’ rotation prior to 2009, when injuries derailed his career. Wang returned late last July after missing more than two years, and his performance convinced the Nationals to sign him to a one-year deal worth $4 million, plus incentives, early in the offseason.
Johnson has yet to make any proclamations regarding the rotation. He has said he’s counting on Wang for the rotation, but today said, “I’m counting on [John] Lannan, too.” Still, if Wang can stay healthy, the spot looks to be his. And so far, in the Nationals’ eyes, Wang has been more than healthy.