ATLANTA, GA - MAY 25: Chien-Ming Wang #40 of the Washington Nationals pitches to the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 25, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
It probably didn't help Ross Detwiler's cause, after he'd struggled against Atlanta last night, giving up five hits, four walks and three runs, all earned in 4.1 innings over which he threw 100 pitches, that Chien-Ming Wang came on and threw 3.0 strong innings in which he allowed a double to the first batter he faced, a single by the opposing pitcher and a home run, a solo shot by Jason Heyward. It was Wang's 2012 major league debut, after the 32-year-old returned from a hamstring injury suffered in Spring Training. Before Wang officially returned to the Nationals, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson had told reporters that the sinker-balling right-hander would work out of the pen as he did last night, explaining that Detwiler had, "... pitched himself into a role as one of the real main guys for not only this year, but for the future here." That future, at least the immediate future as part of the starting rotation, became a little less clear after Detwiler struggled in his fourth-straight start.
"I was a little disappointed in [Detwiler]," Davey Johnson said after last night's win. "He didn't take charge and go right after them. He kind of messed around with them and I think he had about 100 pitches in 4.1 [IP] or something and I like to go and give him every opportunity to get five [innings], but I was just getting a little frustrated with the fact that he wouldn't go right after them. He had good stuff today, and it was a tough hook for me. He's a heck of a pitcher. On the other hand, I had Chien-Ming Wang [warming] up for a couple of innings and I figured, 'If I'm going to use him I'd better use him now,' and he threw the ball very well. It's not easy to come out of the pen, but he threw the ball exceptionally well, had great sink, and I like what I was seeing."
Johnson has made no secret of the fact that he likes Chien-Ming Wang, he said just that when he spoke about Wang's return and what role he would play with the team. "There's no secret I really like Chien-Ming Wang," the manager said, but the decision upon his return was to have him work out of the pen even though his surgically-repaired shoulder made it a less-than-ideal role for the veteran right-hander. After last night's game, Johnson seemed less sure about what he'd do in the future.
Asked if the two pitchers' respective performances last night had changed his opinion of how each would be used going forward, the 69-year-old skipper was non-committal. "Yes and no," Johnson said, "I don't make any decisions on it right after a ballgame, when emotions are running pretty high. But [Detwiler] has been outstanding all year long. The last two or three outings haven't been vintage Det. He's got a great arm. Great stuff. But that one was especially difficult for me because I go to the nth degree, but I thought that was about it on him."
"[Detwiler] just wasn't going after the hitters," the Nats' manager continued, "I think he was close to 100 pitches and he had one out in the fifth. I certainly couldn't have gone past the fifth and it [got] to the point where I didn't want [Detwiler] to get beat up tired. It didn't look like a very good decision when the first guy Chien-Ming faced hits a double, but he pitched awfully good after that, so all's well that ends well."
Braves' outfielder Matt Diaz doubled in two runs on the first pitch Wang threw for the Nats this season, but the veteran right-hander got help from his defense as the Nationals gunned Diaz down trying for third and Wang retired the next batter, Jason Heyward, to preserve Washington's one-run lead after five. Wang needed just nine pitches per inning to get through each of the next two frames, giving up just a single by the opposing pitcher, Tim Hudson. In the eighth, Wang surrendered the one-out solo HR by Heyward before he was lifted for left-hander Sean Burnett, but the Nationals led 7-4 at that point after Wang had walked and eventually scored on a three-run double by Ryan Zimmerman in the top of the seventh.
Sean Burnett finished up the eighth and Tyler Clippard earned his second save of the year with a two-K, 1-2-3 ninth. Davey Johnson told reporters that he was sure Detwiler was upset with his manager after the outing, but qualified that, "He didn't say anything to me, but I'm sure he's upset not only at me, but also himself. But I still have a lot of confidence in him, and we'll worry about that later." Asked if Detwiler was feeling the pressure of knowing that there was competition for his spot with Wang once again healthy, Johnson would only say, "I don't know why," Detwiler would be, "But anything is possible." The manager wasn't making any decision last night, but a week after he'd said Detwiler had earned his spot, he wasn't willing to say he would keep it.