For two years, in 2006 and 2007, Chien-Ming Wang was one of the best pitchers in baseball, playing for the most venerated team in professional sports. He went 38-13 – the best winning percentage of any pitcher in baseball – for the New York Yankees with a 3.67 ERA, recorded more than two groundouts for every fly out and finished second one season in the Cy Young vote.
For the last two years, Wang has been an idle pitcher, slogging alone through the heat in Viera, Fla. He rehabbed a shoulder surgery few pitchers, if any, had tried to return from, done to repair a torn capsule in his right shoulder. Progress was met with another setback, until last month.
Tonight at Nationals Park, at least nine Taiwanese television stations and an auxiliary press box packed with other reporters will record every motion Wang makes in his first major league start since July 4, 2009. “He’s come a long way,” Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams said. “From the first time I saw him throw a baseball until now, it’s an incredible story. A surgery like that, not many guys can come back from it.”
Wang, 31, may be back in the majors, but he will not be the same pitcher was before the injury, not even in style. He can’t afford to be. With the Yankees, Wang relied almost solely on his sinker, a relentless approach that produced groundball after groundball. His sinker averaged 93 miles per hour in 2006 and 2007. During his minor league rehab this month, he threw in the high 80s, touch 90 or 91 occasionally.
“His stuff isn’t obviously that kind of stuff,” Williams said. “I think he’ll have to use all of his pitches. Before he was primarily a one-pitch pitcher. He had a power sinker. Now he’s going to have to use all of them.”
So, no, it won’t be the same Wang who dominated for the Yankees. But he overcame a lot just to reach the point he’s at now. Even after his shoulder healed and he regained strength, a grueling process on its own, Wang had to relearn his throwing mechanics. This spring, to compensate for the condition the surgery left his arm in, Wang threw with a “slingy” motion, Williams said. He threw as if catapulting the ball, how someone would swing their arm if throwing a pie.
After all the work he put it, Wang had to correct that. He also needed to pitch with more flexion in his arm, which is something he’s still working on. Wang will take the mound tonight, but there are no certainties about Wang’s future. There is one thing for sure about his recent past. “You got to mentally tough to be able to go through what he went through,” Williams said.
FROM THE POST
In a 5-2 loss to the Marlins that completed a sweep, the Nationals matched their season-worst losing streak.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 6, Columbus 5: Brian Bixler went 3 for 5 with a double and a home run. Jesus Valdez went 4 for 5. Tom Milone was ejected after he allowed five runs in 2 1/3 innings on six hits and no walks, striking out two.
Harrisburg 2, Binghamton 1 (14 innings): Bryce Harper went 0 for 5 with a walk and three strikeouts. Chris Rahl went 3 for 6 with a triple in the 14th. Erik Arnesen allowed one run in eight innings on three hits and no walks, striking out nine.
Potomac 7, Wilmington 5: Destin Hood went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk. Steve Souza went 2 for 4 with a double. Cutter Dyksta went 3 for 4 witha homer. Paul Demny allowed two runs in seven innings on five hits and no walks, striking out 10.
Delmarva 5, Hagerstown 4: A.J. Cole allowed five runs in three innings on five hits and three walks, striking out three. Paul Applebee allowed no runs in five innings on no hits and a walk, striking out six.
Hudson Valley 3, Auburn 1: Wirkin Estevez allowed no runs in five innings on four hits and no walks, striking out six.