Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE
The Washington Nationals hoped Chien-Ming Wang might return to the form that allowed him to win 19 games in back-to-back seasons with the New York Yankees, but the right-hander's injury issues kept him off the mound for most of the 2012 campaign.
A year ago today, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo talked to reporters in a teleconference about Washington's plans to bring Chien-Ming Wang back for his third season with the organization. The Nationals signed the former two-time 19-game winner when the New York Yankees non-tendered the right-hander after injury-filled '08-'09 campaigns which followed the second of his two 19-win seasons in pinstripes. The then-30-year-old sinkerballer did not pitch in the majors in 2010 as he rehabbed from surgery to repair the capsule in his right shoulder, and he was non-tendered after the season only to re-sign with Washington later that winter.
Wang made it back to the mound in 2011 and earned praise from skipper Davey Johnson, who told reporters late that September that after seeing the 6'4'', 225 lb right-hander make 11 starts in which he had a 4.04 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 13 walks (1.88 BB/9) and 25 Ks (3.61 K/9) in 62.1 IP, he was willing to give up his salary if it meant bringing the Tainin City, Taiwan-born pitcher back to D.C. in 2012.
"As far as I'm concerned, ever since he's started throwing again, he's a keeper," Johnson said. "If you'd seen him throw in December, 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." The Nats' skipper had been particularly impressed with Wang's final outings of the year, a three-game stretch over which the right-hander gave up just six runs on 19 hits while striking out 13 without allowing a walk in 17.2 IP against the Mets, Marlins and Braves.
"If I'm here," the then-68-year-old manager joked, "he can have my salary." A month later, when the Nats' GM talked to reporters about the team's plans for the winter, Rizzo updated everyone on the negotiations with Alan Nero, the agent for the 31-year-old pitcher who'd turn 32 in March 2011. "We are in communication and we're trying to negotiate a contract [with Wang]," Rizzo said, "I wouldn't describe it as imminent or close, but we're still communicating and we still have a mutual interest for Chien-Ming to sign with the Nationals."
Eight days later, the Nats announced that they'd signed Wang to a 1-year/$4M dollar deal (up from the $1M dollar incentive-laden deal for 2011), to bring the pitcher back for the 2012 season. After working his way back from a devastating shoulder injury, Wang appeared to be 100% in Spring Training in 2012 and he was in a battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation when he injured his hamstring trying to make it over to first base from the mound in a game against the New York Yankees. The injury, diagnosed as a left hamstring strain, would delay the start of the right-hander's season.
With Wang injured, Ross Detwiler ended up beating John Lannan out for the fifth spot in the Nats' rotation behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson, but with Detwiler struggling and Wang ready to return in late May, Davey Johnson had a tough decision to make. The Nats' skipper said he would probably keep Wang in the bullpen, but added that it wasn't the best situation with his injury history. "I don't look at him as a reliever," Johnson said, "I look at him as a quality major league starter."
When Detwiler continued to struggle, and in Johnson's eyes failed to challenge hitters, the manager made the decision to put Chien-Ming Wang back in the rotation, telling reporters, including the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore that it was, "... a tough decision," but one that he thought was, "... best for the whole ballclub.'" Wang would make four starts between May 30th and June 19th, posting a 6.62 ERA over 17.2 IP in which he allowed 26 hits, 13 runs and 14 walks with opponents hitting .361 off the veteran right-hander.
Detwiler returned to the rotation the next time around. Davey Johnson explained at the time that he may have stayed with Wang a little longer out of respect for what the pitcher had accomplished in his career. "The only reason I stayed with him," Johnson said, "[Is] because he's made such a great recovery coming back and he's won 19 games a couple times and I felt like I had to stay with him."
Wang would make just two appearances out of the bullpen before he went back on the DL with a right hip strain. The right-hander made several rehab starts as he worked his way back, but he didn't return to the majors until early September. After watching Wang throw a bullpen session, Davey Johnson told reporters he wouldn't hesitate to start Wang if he needed to down the stretch. "He kept the ball down," Johnson said, "Velocity, he's strong as a bull. Good breaking ball. Good changeup. Good four-seamer, good two-seamer, good command."
"I wouldn't have any qualms at all about starting him or using him out of the pen," the Nats' manager continued. Wang had a 4.15 ERA, 4.25 FIP, one walk and three Ks in 8.2 IP in September. After a September 23rd outing against Milwaukee, Johnson lamented the fact that Wang's season had gone the way it did.
"I like him a lot," the manager said when asked about the possibility of Wang pitching with the team after this season, "It's just been an unfortunate year. He was throwing the ball great in the Spring... and having that big hamstring injury... the one area where we're a little short depth-wise [as an organization] is starting pitching, so, that's a discussion for down the road." Wang was not included on the Nats' 25-Man roster for the NLDS.
Chien-Ming Wang will become a free agent five days after the World Series ends.