WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Chien-Ming Wang #40 of the Washington Nationals in removed from the game by manager Davey Johnson #5 in the seventh inning against the Florida Marlins at Nationals Park on September 18, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Washington Nationals' right-hander Chien-Ming Wang's 6.2 IP on Sunday gave the Tainan City, Taiwan-born sinker-balling former New York Yankee his longest outing since June 2008, back before the now-31-year-old pitcher suffered a shoulder injury that would cost him two years during what should have been the prime of his career. Wang's 5 K's against the Marlins were the most he's recorded since June 4th 2009, when he struck out five Texas Rangers' batters in an 8-6 Yankees' win. Though he gave up two HR's in the Nationals' series-salvaging win, the 6'3'', 230 lb starter appeared sharper and more confident than he had in previous outings this year.
Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson was not surprised. "I've said all along, every time he goes out there I see a little improvement," the Nationals' manager said, "And that's been from his first start through [his tenth today]. I think the main thing is that he's starting to trust that he's healthy. He's throwing more quality pitches, and even the HR he gave up in the seventh inning had great sink on it and the hitter just kind of cheated and caught it out front, but other than that I still like the way he threw, and I think the best is still yet to come with him."
Johnson's been following Chien-Ming Wang's attempt to return to the majors from the very start, first in Florida where he did his rehab work and now in the majors with the Nats, and he's impressed by all of what he's seen, telling reporters, "I know a lot of [reporters] and a lot of other people were critical when he first went out, but I was amazed at how he was throwing from day one, because I saw him in December of the previous year and I've just seen a little improvement every step of the way."
Not just his stuff has impressed Davey Johnson. "Also his demeanor. I think he's getting more confidence this can hold up," Johnson said referring to Wang's surgically-repaired shoulder. "You know, that was a severe injury, and the big thing is a pitcher's confidence that he can do what he wants to with the ball and location and not have a problem injury-wise." One thing Johnson wasn't happy with, however, was the solo HR Wang surrendered to Gaby Sanchez on a first-pitch slider in the top of the fifth.
"I always hated when I guy with a good sinker gives up a HR on a breaking ball," Johnson said half-jokingly, "So he's 50/50 today with me. I didn't mind it on the sinker, but the slider, especially if it was a hanger... but his slider's been more consistent, everything about him has been more consistent and I love his competitiveness. You see that comes out any time he's in a kind of a little jam."
"As far as I'm concerned," Johnson said, speculating on whether or not Wang would be back with Washington next year, "ever since he's started throwing again, he's a keeper." Wang should get one more start this season to convince the Nationals to bring him back if they still need convincing. Chien-Ming Wang, for his part, told MLB.com's Bill Ladson, in an article earlier this month entitled, "Wang would like to return to Nationals", that he'd like to return to the nation's capital's Nats next year:
"'They have taken care of me a lot the past two years. So I want to come back,' said Wang, who is making $1 million this season. 'I want to help them get more wins. I just want to get back, no matter the salary.'"