Chien-Ming Wang is a man without a role. After an indescribably bad start to the season, the Yanks placed Wang on the disabled list so he could continue his physical rehabilitation while pitching in live games without hurting the big league club. He seemed to be on the road back at this time last week, with perhaps his last AAA start coming last Friday. But then Joba Chamberlain got hit in the knee and plans changed. They burned long man Al Aceves by using him for 3.1 innings in relief of Chamberlain after he pitched two innings the previous day. Jon Albaladejo pitched an ineffective 2.1 innings, which not only made him unavailable for Friday, but made him a prime candidate for demotion, thereby opening up a slot for someone who could handle multiple innings.
The Yanks did get Wang into the game on Friday night after A.J. Burnett surrendered five runs in six innings. Wang didn’t look sharp, as he allowed two runs in three innings and had some trouble keeping his sinker down. Control was also somewhat of an issue, as Wang threw just 57 percent of his pitches for strikes. Worst of all, he allowed as many fly balls as ground balls, a sure sign that Wang wasn’t himself. The Yankees seemed to understand that and chose to not use Wang in relief of Joba Chamberlain last night, instead opting for their normal long man, Aceves.
Did the Yankees make a mistake by activating Wang while he still had plenty of time left on his rehab clock? Given the quotes PeteAbe got from Dave Eiland, it would seem so. The pitching coach notes that “it’s hard to get him a lot of innings” right now. This is because 1) there is currently no opening for him in the rotation, given Phil Hughes’s stellar outing on Monday, and 2) because in close games the Yankees don’t want to risk handing the ball to Wang, who has yet to prove he can regain his old form. While getting Wang innings is important, winning games is even more so. If Phil Hughes were pitching like Wang, they could send him to AAA to get his innings. Not so with Wang, who is out of options. This leaves both him and the Yankees in a tough place, since Wang cannot improve without regular work.
Eiland then discusses another issue affecting Wang’s progress:
“You can’t do too much stuff on the side because you might need him in the game. It’s a tough spot but we’re working at it. If we go out and let him throw 35 pitches in the afternoon, he could only go one inning that night.”
This might even be counterproductive, since a bullpen session is vastly different than game action. While Wang would benefit from even one inning out of the pen, he would benefit even more from throwing all 50 of those pitches (presuming 15 per inning) in a live game, rather than throwing the first 35 on the side. But if he doesn’t throw those pitches on the side and then isn’t used in the game, he suffers that much more.
The Yanks will have to get Chien-Ming Wang into games, and regularly at that, if they want him to recover and again become the No. 2 starter he’s been for the past three years. If this is, as both the Yanks and Wang attest, a mechanical issue, then that’s something they can surely work on in the side. It would be nice if he could work out the issue in live game situations with Scranton, since that wouldn’t harm the big league club. But the Yankees made their decision, and now they’ll have to live with it.
What can the Yankees do to dig themselves out of the hole they created by activating Wang? Hopefully it involves more than just waiting out the situation. While patience is the best path in many situations, this does not appear to be one of them. Patience means Wang stays on the shelf while remaining on the active roster. It means him whittling away in the bullpen while he could have been getting live action in the minors. The Yanks will have to do a little more — something, anything in order to get Wang regular work while not harming the big league club. As my parents used to tell me: you made your bed, now lie in it.