- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ivan Rodriguez remembers facing Chien-Ming Wang when the Washington Nationals right-hander was throwing 97-mph sinkers from 60 feet, 6 inches. A veritable bowling ball coming at batters so quickly it’d be tough to get a bat on it, let alone propel it into play.

He’s not that pitcher anymore. His sinker is still there, trademark as it ever was, but his velocity spends much more time in the low 90s and high 80s. His shoulder is surgically repaired, his body strengthened from two full years of rehab.

But as he’s proven this season in 11 starts, remarkable in the first place because he made them at all, Wang is still a major league pitcher — and a good one at that.

“I’ll tell you this,” Rodriguez said after catching Wang for the first time. “Every start that he’s thrown, he’s getting better and better. He’s going to be a guy who’s going to do a good job in this organization in the future.”

In throwing six innings of one-run baseball Saturday afternoon, Wang closed his abbreviated season on a high note, holding the Atlanta Braves to four hits, one of them a solo home run by Freddie Freeman, and striking out four. He did not walk a batter. In the Nationals’ 4-1 win, he also added his first career hit, an RBI single to right field in the fourth for the Nationals’ fourth run of the game.

In his first seven starts, Wang walked 13 batters and struck out just nine over the course of 38 2/3 innings. In his last four, spanning 23 2/3 innings, he’s struck out 16 and walked none. In a season that started with four more months of arduous rehab, Wang finished the year 4-3 with a 4.04 ERA.

“I wish I could still pitch a couple more games this season,” Wang said through translator John Hsu. “[The more] outings I get, I feel my shoulder is stronger and the breaking ball is coming back. … The surgery took me so long for rehab and everything to come back. At this point, I’m really happy I still can pitch on the mound.”

The only thing that has yet to fully return for Wang, who plans to continue his shoulder strengthening program through the offseason, is his velocity. It may never completely return, but Rodriguez, who’s seen his share of pitches, doesn’t think it has to.

“You don’t need to throw hard,” Rodriguez said. “If you locate your pitches in the corners and get ahead in the count, speed doesn’t mean anything.”

Wang averaged 90 mph with his fastball this season, but on the days that his sinker was working, like it was on Saturday, it rarely mattered.

“Just a remarkable season,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “Got better every time out. It’s just been steady progress. And I think the best is yet to come.”

The only question now is whether or not it will come in a Nationals uniform. Wang has said on numerous occasions how he feels indebted to the Nationals for helping him through his rehab the past two seasons and for their faith in him. The Nationals have made no secret that they’d like to have him in their rotation next year.

The numbers, it seems, are all that’s left to be decided upon.

“Shoot, if I’m here, he can have my salary,” Johnson said. “If you’d seen him throw in December and where he is right now, my hat goes off to him. He worked hard. He’s a dominant pitcher. He looks great.

“He takes care of his body and works hard in conditioning. I think going through a winter where he doesn’t have to go to physical therapy where he doesn’t have to get rid of the pain, I think when he comes to spring training next year, he’ll feel fresh as a daisy. Hopefully I’ll see it in Viera, [Fla].”



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