Chien-Ming Wang's first start for the Washington Nationals won't be his first outing in the nation's capital. The 31-year-old two-time 19-game winner was 26 and on his way to the first nineteen win season of his career when he pitched for the New York Yankees against the Nats in RFK Stadium on July 18, 2006. The right-hander threw 4.0 scoreless that Sunday before Brendan Harris drove Ryan Zimmerman in from second with an RBI single to left that put Washington up 1-0 on the Tainan City, Taiwan-born starter.
The Yankees took a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth, after tying it on a Jorge Posada sac fly in the sixth, when Alex Rodriguez drove Melky Cabrera in from first with a two-out RBI double off right-hander Gary Majewski, but Wang, who'd allowed just the one run through eight lost it in the ninth when Ryan Zimmerman followed a one-out Marlon Anderson single with a two-run walk-off winner. Zimmerman's 10th HR of the year handed Wang his third loss.
The Nationals were one of just six teams to beat Wang that season. He'd win 19 that year and again in 2007 before injuring his foot in 2008 and his hip and shoulder in 2009, bringing about an abrupt and prolonged period of inaction for the 6'3'', 230lb pitcher. The Washington Nationals signed Wang to a 1-year/$2M dollar deal in February of 2010 as he continued to rehab his shoulder from athroscopic surgery that repaired the capsule (which is a "fibrous membrane that surrounds the joint") in his right shoulder.
After a year spent working his way back and building up muscle strength in his shoulder, Wang was non-tendered and re-signed by the Nats. Washington gave Wang a one-year/$1M dollar incentive-based deal which the pitcher agreed to, as Boston Globe.com writer Nick Cafardo wrote at the time, because he, "...felt loyalty to Washington for covering his medical expenses," in 2010. Wang continued the laborious process of returning to the mound and to the surprise of many who'd wondered if he'd ever pitch competitively again, made his first professional start since July 4, 2009 this past June 27th for the Class-A Hagerstown Suns.
In six starts and 28.2 IP across the Nats' system over the last month, Wang's walked four, K'd 17 and allowed 10 ER on 15 hits, two of them HR's. Asked what he expects to see from the starter the Nats have invested two years in as he worked his way back to the majors, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the Fan's Danny Rouhier Thursday night on the Mike Rizzo Show, "I don't know exactly what to expect tomorrow night,":
"He's been very impressive in his rehab starts in the minor leagues. He's gone as many as a 100 pitches in games, his velocity is up, the sink on his fastball is there, his breaking pitches have been there in spurts. So, it is a very inspiring story. The stick-to-it-iveness and the determination that this guy has shown over two years of really being away from his teammates in Viera by yourself rehabbing, it's a grinding process, I'm so proud of him for the way he's persevered. But, I'm not sure what to expect tomorrow..."
Wang last major league start with the Yankees ended after 5.1 IP when he blew a 3-2 lead over the Blue Jays, surrendering three runs (that inning, 4 ER overall) to Toronto in a game that New York won 6-5 in extra innings. Two years and 25 days later he'll be back on the mound in Nationals Park tonight, making his first pinstripe-less home start for a franchise other than the one that signed him as an amateur free agent in 2000.