VIERA, Fla. — On the day that all of the candidates for the Nationals No. 5 starter role were throwing live batting practice, it was the field on which Chien-Ming Wang was throwing his that Nationals manager Davey Johnson, pitching coach Steve McCatty, general manager Mike Rizzo and, eventually, pitching coordinator Spin Williams all seemed to end up.
Wang, who has been given an extra day between throwing sessions this spring as a way to help him avoid some of the shoulder stiffness that plagued him last spring in the second year of his arduous recovery from a torn shoulder capsule, did not disappoint.
Even a casual observer could tell that Wang felt strong on the mound and the chatter around the cage was that Wang got stronger as his session went on — a good sign that proved he was able to warm up, which had been an issue for him last year. His breaking ball was also exceptional early with his fastball coming along later. Johnson called both of those things “fine signs.”
“I look at his delivery,” Johnson said. “His delivery’s free and easy. As he went along, he got stronger and his velocity was better. That’s his pace. He’s a veteran pitcher. He knows what he needs to do to peak at the right time.”
Wang maintaining his health throughout the spring will be vital for the Nationals in deciding who their fifth starter is. John Lannan, Wang and Ross Detwiler appear to be the leading candidates for the fifth starter spot and one of the two who misses out on the spot will likely be shifting to the bullpen as a long reliever.
Games will of course be more telling than any bullpen session or live batting practice and Lannan and Wang are slated to pitch on the same day, March 5, for their first outing of the spring. Wang will throw a simulated game back in Viera while Lannan starts in Port St. Lucie against the New York Mets. Detwiler will follow Stephen Strasburg to the mound on Sept. 4.