"There's no secret I really like Chien-Ming Wang," Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson said on Saturday afternoon, before telling the D.C. press corps that he would likely move the 32-year-old sinker-balling right-hander to the bullpen when he returns from his rehab assignment. Wang started at Triple-A Syracuse Saturday night while 26-year-old Nats' left-hander Ross Detwiler, Wang's main competition for the 5th spot in the Nats' rotation, started at home in D.C. against the visiting Baltimore Orioles. Detwiler had a rough outing, giving up nine hits and six runs in 5.0 innings, over which he walked one, K'd three and gave up two home runs. After starting the season (3-1) with a 1.59 ERA, 19 hits, nine runs (five earned), nine walks and two home runs allowed in five starts and 28.1 IP over which he struck out 21, the '07 1st Round pick has struggled in his last three starts, surrendering 23 hits, 14 runs (13 earned), two walks and two home runs in 16.0 IP in which he's K'd 10...
In last night's loss his control was an issue as Davey Johnson explained. "Det was throwing the ball good, but the problem is that they were getting on his fastball pretty good. He wasn't locating it that well. He didn't use both sides of the plate tonight, and his secondary stuff, he wasn't getting it over. I think his first curveball he threw was in the fourth inning. But, pretty much, didn't locate and didn't use his secondary stuff." When he did throw his breaking ball, the Orioles' hitters spit on it too. Detwiler got a groundout with the first slider he threw, in the second at bat of the fourth, but only threw one of five for strikes in the fifth. "He was throwing the ball hard," Johnson said, "But he wasn't locating it, and the American League is notorious for jumping on some fastballs out over the plate, and you've got to use that secondary pitch, and I think the first offspeed pitch he threw [over] and they jumped all over [his fastball]."
In spite of the rough recent outings, Davey Johnson's repeatedly said that's he's impressed with what he's seen from Detwiler since the end of last season when Johnson championed the lefty's return to the rotation. As much as he likes Chien-Ming Wang, and he made clear again this weekend that he does, the Nats' manager said Detwiler's earned his spot in the starting rotation. "Detwiler has pitched himself into a role as one of the real main guys for not only this year, but for the future here," Johnson explained. So where does that leave Chien-Ming Wang and his surgically repaired shoulder? In the bullpen, as the Nationals' skipper said Saturday.
"Everybody says it's a good problem to have," Johnson said, referring to the oft-repeated baseball maxim about how, "You can never have enough pitching," but as the veteran bench manager explained, it's not always a good problem, because in situations like the one he'll face when Chien-Ming Wang's ready to return, "... there's no easy choice. I will probably, when [Wang] comes up, I will probably start him in the bullpen. It's probably the easiest no-decision. But I don't look at him as a reliever. I look at him as a quality major league starter." Wang has just five relief appearances on his resume, and his surgically repaired shoulder took a long time to warm up last season when he was working his way back after over two years on the sidelines after surgery.
"I think [Wang is] a heck of a pitcher," Johnson said, "I liked what I saw last year in his progression from that tremendous shoulder injury. I love a sinker baller. He's got a great pedigree, he won 19 games in a high pressure cooker market, but again, just analyzing the talent, what I saw last year [with Wang] I liked enough that I said I'd give part of my salary to [have him] come back, and thank goodness they didn't have to use my salary, and we got him back, but when I saw him in the Spring, after the winter and I thought he was going to be stronger. I thought he was 80% back at the end of his last outing [of 2011], from his start to when he came out, and then this year I thought he was, shoot, from 80%, I thought he was up to 90% to start the Spring and I know he's a veteran and he's going to only get better by the end of the Spring. And so what I saw early was really good, like 90%, and eye-opening, and stronger from the get-go, all his in-between starts were strong, side [sessions] and then he hurt himself."
After last night's start, in which Wang gave up seven hits and four runs in 5.2 IP over which he walked three, struck out six and induced eight ground ball outs, the right-hander has a 3.52 ERA on his rehab assignment, giving up 33 hits and 13 runs, 12 earned in five starts and 30.2 IP. The Nationals have until May 27th, when Wang's rehab officially ends (30 days after it started) to make a decision, but Davey Johnson seemed pretty sure of what it would be yesterday, and he didn't seem too concerned about how Wang would do as a reliever, explaining that it's nothing new for him to work with starters in the bullpen.
"If I have a quality major league starter," the veteran of 16 seasons as a manager explained, "and I have him as insurance in the pen, I mean, I have starters in [Craig] Stammen and [Tom] Gorzelanny, but I'm not abusing them. And if you take it a step further, if it's like a Chien-Ming or a Detwiler, who can be an integral part of a big league rotation, I'm going to basically have them work on a five-day rotation, so that I don't create any adverse arm problems for them and it's plenty of warm-up time or whatever."
"We're still down the road," Johnson reiterated, however, "We're still talking about things, must be a boring day here in D.C., because we're talking about stuff that's probably 10 days away. He's got until the 27th [of May], and I think, with what I've seen and what I saw on tv the other day and knowing what I know about him, he's probably not as far along as the guys I have starting. All of them can go 100 pitches. He's probably not at that point. But he's real close and he's very pitch efficient."
Who knows? After all, the Nats' manager did say that John Lannan was the Nationals' fifth starter this Spring, a week before the team announced that Detwiler had made the opening day rotation by outpitching Lannan in Spring Training. Another rough outing for Detwiler probably won't change things, but as the Nats proved in picking Detwiler over Lannan at the start of the season, they're going to do what they think gives them the best chance to win, even if it means making a tough decision that's going to upset one of their pitchers. Just ask John Lannan.