WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 21: Starting pitcher Chien-Ming Wang #40 of the Washington Nationals prepares to pitch to a Philadelphia Phillies batter during the sixth inning at Nationals Park on August 21, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
After Chien-Ming Wang's 10th start of the season for the Washington Nationals, Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson seemed convinced that the right-hander sinker-baller was back to being the sort of pitcher he was when he first came up with the New York Yankees. Asked if he thought the 31-year-old right-hander would be pitching in the nation's capital again next season, Johnson told reporters, "As far as I'm concerned, ever since he's started throwing again, he's a keeper."
Asked this morning, before Wang's 11th start of the year, for his thoughts on what Wang has been able to accomplish this year after two years spent recovering from shoulder surgery that threatened to end his career, the Nats' Skipper said that he sees Wang growing more and more sure of himself and his surgically-repaired right shoulder. "I think he's getting more confidence that his shoulder's going to hold up, and that's the big thing," Johnson told reporters, "The last couple of games he's started, he started a lot sharper early in the game, so that tells me he's getting loose easier and he's trusting it, but I think the best is yet to come from him. He's had a great comeback, I love where he's at and I look forward to [him] signing over the winter and he'll be back with us next year."
"He doesn't have anything to prove to me," Davey Johnson continued, "I'm sure he wants to give us every opportunity to win. I know he's not any pitch limit with me, he hasn't been for the last probably three outings, so I'm anxious to see him pitch."
In his last start of the 2011 campaign Saturday afternoon, Chien-Ming Wang did nothing to dissuade the Nationals' from the belief that he's healthy and capable of pitching regularly again at the major league level. Over 6.0 innings against Atlanta, Wang held the Braves to one run on four hits, striking out four and inducing eight ground ball outs with the sinker that's been his trademark and the source of his success. Wang, who signed with Washington in 2010 and never pitched, ends his second season with the Nationals (4-3) with a 4.04 ERA in 11 starts and 62.1 IP over which he walked 13 and K'd 25. Wang ended the season with a streak of 95-straight batters faced without a walk allowed.
"Just a remarkable season," Wang's manager said today in the postgame press conference following the Nationals' 4-1 win over the Braves. "[He] got better every time out. I was actually nervous after the sixth inning, I [knew] he could continue, he was throwing that good, but as far I'm concerned I just wanted to shake his hand, I didn't want to have to go out and have to get him."
MLB.com's Bill Ladson reported Friday night that Wang's agent Alan Nero and the Nationals had begun preliminary talks about bringing the right-hander back in 2012, and Wang's openly expressed a desire to return to the team that gave him a contract and the opportunity to rehab his shoulder. Davey Johnson left no ambiguity as to his opinion on whether the Nationals should bring Wang back next season. "No doubt about it," Johnson told reporters, "I mean, if I'm here, he can have my salary."
"If you'd seen him throw in December," the Nats' manager continued, "and where he is right now, it's just...my hat goes off to him, he worked hard and he's a dominant pitcher. He looks great." A Taiwanese reporter asked Johnson to clarify his comments for the audience in Wang's home country and the 68-year-old skipper reiterated that he wanted Wang back in 2012. "No question about it. No question about it," Johnson said, "I like the way he's throwing. He's pitching basically around 90 [mph], and look at how the hitters are hitting him. You see where he started out a little rough, but every time out was an improvement."
"I think in the last few games starting out a lot of times he didn't have the confidence to really cut it loose and consequently left balls up and whatever," Johnson continued, "but once he started getting past that point he was fine and in the last two or three outings...you know he has to feel healthy, and I didn't have him on a pitch count, I would have gone 100/110 pitches with him, but it was so great and I had a fresh bullpen, I said, '[There's] no sense in me taking him to the max right now, there's always next year.'"
Asked if there was any room for improvement, or if Wang was back at the top of his game, Davey Johnson said that having a winter in which he can work out and prepare without rehabbing can only help Wang. "I think going through a winter where he doesn't have to go to physical therapy to just try to get rid of the pain, I think when he comes to Spring Training next year I think he'll feel fresh as a daisy, and I hope I see it in Viera."