The Washington Nationals have figured out, at least for now, the place for Chien-Ming Wang. When the right-hander is ready to come off the disabled list and return to the active roster on or before May 27, the Nationals will pitch him out of the bullpen, allowing their major league-best rotation to remain intact.
“It’s probably the easiest no decision,” Johnson said. “But I don’t look at him as a reliever. I look at him as a quality major league starter.”
The only problem is the Nationals already have five of those. When the team made the decision on the eve of the season to option John Lannan and his $5 million salary to Triple-A because they couldn’t justify keeping Ross Detwiler hidden in the bullpen, it knew it may eventually find itself in this predicament. Detwiler, who starts Saturday night against the Orioles, has a 2.75 ERA this season.
“Detwiler’s just throwing too well not to be in the rotation,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
“Detwiler has pitched himself into a role as a main guy for not only this year but for the future here,” Johnson said. “Everybody says it’s a good problem to have, but probably not for the questions I’m going to get asked, because there’s no easy choice.”
The move, which will likely mean the end of right-hander Ryan Perry’s time in the major leagues for now, also frees up righty Craig Stammen to be used in more high-leverage, late-game situations. Stammen has pitched extremely well this season, allowing just four earned runs in 22 innings of work.
Wang, who also starts Saturday night for Triple-A Syracuse, will most likely make one more start in the minor leagues before the Nationals are forced to add him to the active roster. When he does get to the major leagues, he will be kept stretched out enough that he could start if necessary, allowing the Nationals to keep a great deal of their pitching depth at the major league level. They also still have Lannan in Triple-A.
Wang, who signed a one-year $4 million contract laden with incentives this past November, has minimal experience relieving and wasn’t thought to be a candidate for the bullpen given the injury history in his right shoulder, which underwent extensive surgery and rehab before he made his comeback in 2011.
After his first work at Nationals Park earlier this week as he rehabs a strained left hamstring suffered March 15, Wang said that he would be open to working out of the bullpen if that was what the team felt would be best. The Nationals feel they can keep him on a five-day schedule out of the bullpen, a move that they hope will also allow them to be mindful of the additional time he’ll need to warm-up.
“I really like Chien-Ming Wang,” Johnson said. “I think he’s a heck of a pitcher. I like what I saw last year in his progression from that tremendous shoulder injury. I love a sinkerballer. He’s got great pedigree.”