Wang's return to hill seen as a success
Despite two runs in three frames, sinkerballer sees progress
NEW YORK -- Here's how you can tell just how far Chien-Ming Wang had fallen, and how difficult his return to the big leagues has been: He allowed two runs in three innings in the Yankees' 7-3 loss to the Phillies on Friday night, and his ERA actually went down -- from 34.50 to 25.00.
So perhaps it wasn't the dynamite return the Yankees were hoping for from their beleaguered right-hander, but on the same day they surprisingly activated Wang from the disabled list to join their bullpen, he showed them exactly what they wanted to see.
"His velocity was a lot better," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who noted the righty had made progress since he was placed on the disabled list last month. "We saw a lot more good sinkers."
Wang had not pitched in the Majors since April 18, having been put on the DL with adductor muscle weakness after a dreadful beginning to the season. In three starts, he allowed 23 runs in six innings and went 0-3. Wang's patented sinker that the Yankees have grown so accustomed to seeing opposing batters consistently smack straight into the ground, was staying straight and flat. This from a pitcher who won 19 games in 2006 and '07.
He finally began to show progress recently, tossing 13 scoreless frames in two rehab starts with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and was scheduled to make one final appearance in the minors Friday night in Pawtucket, R.I., before returning to the Yankees.
But when starter Joba Chamberlain was hit with a line drive Thursday and had to exit the game after just two-thirds of an inning, the Yankees decided to recall Wang immediately and use him as a long reliever -- something he had never done but was willing to try to get back to New York.
"The hitters are totally different, so it's much better to be here," Wang said through a translator.
One day into the bullpen experiment, he was given his first test. Wang entered the game in the seventh inning to face the middle of Philadelphia's lineup with New York trailing, 5-1, and was greeted by a nice ovation by the Yankee Stadium crowd.
Two batters in, it appeared Wang was up to his own tricks, allowing a long home run to outfielder Raul Ibanez that landed in the bleachers beyond the Yankees' bullpen in right-center. The pitch was a sinker that failed to sink and remained in the hitting zone for Ibanez to drive.
From there, he appeared to settle down, not allowing another extra-base hit. Although he surrendered five more hits and another run, Yankees' pitching coach Dave Eiland stressed that many of the hits came on ground balls that scooted through the infield. For a sinkerballer, that's an indication his pitches were moving the way they were supposed to. Three of his nine outs came through the air.
"I saw a lot of things tonight that reminded me of the Chien-Ming Wang of old," Eiland said.
For one, his velocity was much improved. Wang normally throws between 92-95 mph with his sinker, but had been around 88-90 throughout this season. Girardi said Wang's pitches were consistently between 91-94 on Friday, which he said was encouraging. Wang said he was pleased with his velocity and felt that his sinker was sharper than it was in April.
The next question is what is in store next for Wang. Now that he is back with the Yankees, it is unlikely he will make another start at Scranton before rejoining the rotation. Girardi said after the game that Wang is currently a part of the bullpen, but likely will not pitch again until at least Tuesday. The club has not yet made any further decisions.
But by all accounts, Wang's return to the Yankees was a successful one, and the team is cautiously optimistic that he is on the right track. Now Girardi and Eiland want to see more consistency from Wang. He left one pitch up on Friday. For the Yankees, that's one pitch too many.
"The bottom line is he was better than he was before," Eiland said. "That's encouraging. That's progress."
Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.