WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 03: Starting pitcher Chien-Ming Wang #40 of the Washington Nationals throws to a Atlanta Braves batter during the second inning at Nationals Park on August 3, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
After Wednesday night's 10 K outing, Washington Nationals' left-hander Gio Gonzalez had 60 strikeouts in 48.2 IP (11.10 K/9) in 2012, surpassing Stephen Strasburg's total of 56 K's in 48.0 innings (10.50 K/9) to take the lead in the National League. Gio (2.22) gave up three earned runs against the Pirates on Wednesday, (and the first HR he's surrendered the season), thus falling behind Jordan Zimmermann (2.14 ERA before Thursday's start) for the team's lowest ERA. Strasburg (2.25) is not far back in third amongst Nats' pitchers. The Nats' top three starters ranked 8th, 9th and 10 in the NL in ERA after Wednesday night's game. As a staff, the Nationals' rotation has the lowest team ERA (2.59) and FIP (2.73), the highest K/9 (8.52 K/9), second-lowest BB/9 (2.31 to Philadelphia's 1.82), the lowest HR/9 (0.56 HR/9), second-lowest BABIP (.257 to the Dodgers' .251) and the fourth-best LOB% (75.2% LOB). According to what Davey Johnson said after Wednesday's game, the success his starters have had has allowed the Nationals to take as much time as necessary getting injured right-hander Chien-MIng Wang ready to return to the majors.
When the 31-year-old former two-time 19-game winner talked to reporters Wednesday at Nationals Park, he told them, through an interpreter, that he was ready to return after making four starts in the Nats' system in which he's give up 26 hits, nine runs, eight earned and two walks while striking out 12 in 25.0 IP, but simply doing what the team asked in returning for one more outing at Triple-A. "'I’m ready,'" the Washington Times' Amanda Comak quoted Wang saying, "'But I need to follow directions from the team.'" Wang's scheduled to start for the Syracuse Chiefs again on Saturday, which as everyone's noted, has him on the same schedule as Ross Detwiler, the pitcher he's most likely to replace if he returns to the rotation.
Detwiler, however, the 26-year-old '07 1st Rounder, has continued to pitch well after coming on strong late last season and beating John Lannan out for the final spot in the rotation at the end of Spring Training. The 6'5'' left-hander is (3-2) with a 2.75 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 10 walks (2.29 BB/9) and 28 K's (6.41 K/9) in seven starts and 39.1 IP. Edwin Jackson, who's making $11M this year on the one-year deal he signed this past winter, is (1-1) in seven starts with a 3.71 ERA, 3.70 FIP, nine walks (1.85 BB/9) and 38 K's (7.83 K/9) in 43.2 IP. Which is why, as Davey Johnson explained after Gonzalez's start on Wednesday, there's no rush to bring Wang back.
"All five [pitchers]," the 69-year-old manager said when talking about the work his starters have done so far, "I've got no complaints with any of them, they've been great. I mean, shoot, Chien-Ming's been ready to be up here and we're making... having a couple extra starts so he's like he's been having two up here, not just coming out of Spring Training because these guys are doing so well." Barring any setbacks, or hiccups in Wang's rehabilitation, at some point next week the Nationals are going to be forced to make a decision.
The Nats' skipper's said several times that he doesn't think ahead about decisions that have to be made down the road, but at some point in the near future, Johnson, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo and the Nats' front office are going to have to decide if Chien-Ming Wang's one of the five best pitchers available for the rotation. They made a tough decision once before, sending veteran lefty John Lannan to Triple-A because they though Ross Detwiler gave them the best chance to win. Another tough decision lies ahead.
Davey Johnson lobbied for Wang's return to the Nationals late last season. He oversaw Ross Detwiler's return to the rotation. What will Rizzo and Johnson do when Wang's ready to return? Chien-Ming Wang told reporters he was willing to work out of the pen, but not too many people think he's a good fit for relief work with his surgically repaired shoulder. Ross Detwiler would make a great addition to the bullpen, but can Wang offer what Detwiler does to the starting rotation? After one more start on Saturday, we'll finally learn what the Nats have planned...