Wang likely to get Opening Day nod
Ace right-hander tosses two scoreless innings in spring debut
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If Chien-Ming Wang's third pitch can be as soft as his words, the Yankees right-hander will be even more of a logical fit for Opening Day.
The 28-year-old made his Spring Training debut on Saturday, pitching two scoreless innings against the Phillies at Bright House Field. Before the start, manager Joe Girardi said that Wang is lined up to pitch on March 31, when the Yankees head north to face the Blue Jays -- the final home opener at the current Yankee Stadium.
"There's a real good chance he'll be our Opening Day starter this year," Girardi said.
Looking to improve on two consecutive 19-win seasons, Wang has been instructed this spring to continue developing a changeup to keep hitters off balance. Several clubs -- most notably, the Red Sox -- seemed to sit on Wang's sinker, and an offspeed offering would do much to increase batters' honesty.
"You have to adjust a little bit," Girardi said. "Obviously, teams in your division -- realistically, you've got a chance to make four or five starts against them. You're going to have to make adjustments, because they're going to make adjustments to you."
Wang's start against Philadelphia, a club he will not see during the regular season, was fairly uneventful.
He left a four-seam fastball up to cleanup hitter Ryan Howard, who ripped the fat offering for a double, but was otherwise sharp. Wang said he used both his two-seam and four-seam fastballs, plus his slider and the work-in-progress changeup to record six outs, including a strikeout looking on Pat Burrell.
"That's why we practice it here, so we can use it in the regular season," said catcher Jose Molina. "Now they have to think about changeup, sinker, slider. Which one of those are you going to throw? It gives the hitter another thing in their mind instead of just two pitches."
The tweaks were suggested by two trusted voices in Wang's inner circle -- former pitching coach Ron Guidry, who is in camp with the Yankees as a guest instructor, and current pitching coach Dave Eiland. Wang agreed they were necessary.
"Everything was hard, hard, hard," Wang said. "I needed soft."
Eiland said that Wang's sinker and slider would continue to be his bread-and-butter pitches, but incorporating the changeup would be a main objective in Spring Training. Last year, Wang estimated he used about three or four changeups per game. Eiland would like to see about eight to 10 percent of Wang's pitches be offspeed.
"I don't care who you are or what type of pitcher you are, you have to change speeds," Eiland said. "Obviously, he's won 19 games each of the last two years, and that's all well and good. But you have to change speeds. That's only going to benefit him."
Wang is coming off another largely successful campaign for the Yankees, going 19-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 30 starts. But he also had trouble in the postseason, suffering two losses and posting a 19.06 ERA in the Yankees' four-game playoff elimination to the Indians in the American League Division Series.
"The playoffs are last year," Wang said. "This year just started."
Girardi said that he is not concerned about any possible carryover from the Yankees' ALDS loss.
"He struggled a little bit. So did 'Cy Young,'" Girardi said, referring to Cleveland ace C.C. Sabathia, who lost twice in the AL Championship Series to the Red Sox.
"You expect people to get better every year. I saw a vast improvement in his slider last year. He'll continue to work on that and just becoming a complete pitcher. But he's pretty good right now."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.