During his last outing in Boston, Chien-Ming Wang couldn’t escape the third inning. He threw 29 pitches in the first inning, and while his fastball was up in the mid-90s, his sinker had no sink. Boston tattooed him, and the Yanks would go on to lose 6-5.
After the game, Joe Girardi didn’t commit to another start for the Yanks’ erstwhile ace. “I’m not ready to make that decision right now,” he said.
Less than 24 hours later, though, Girardi was ready to make that decision, and he did so in the form of an ultimatum. Wang would get one more start this week against the Nationals. If he falters against Washington, the Yankees will need to come up with a new plan, Girardi seemed to intimate. With Al Aceves and Phil Hughes both on the 25-man roster, the Yankees could easily find someone to take Wang’s place in short order.
Yesterday, following the Yanks’ victory over the Mets in the most lopsided Subway Series game in Interleague history, Brian Cashman sat down for a short state of the organization chat with Newsday’s Arthur Staple. While Staple and the Yanks’ GM chatted about the importance of Brian Bruney, Cashman’s need of Steinbrenner approval for any payroll increases and the vague state of the trade market, Cashman’s most pregnant words were reserved for Wang.
Cashman said Wang’s start Wednesday against the Nationals would be a big factor in determining what happens next.
“We need Chien-Ming Wang,” Cashman said. “This is an important step. We know what he’s capable of. The velocity and the sink are there. Maybe his confidence isn’t there.”
After Wang flamed out again in Boston on Wednesday, Cashman, Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland met to decide Wang’s future. They chose to give him one more chance at starting before demoting him and returning Phil Hughes to the rotation. Hughes pitched a scoreless ninth inning yesterday.
“Clearly, our bullpen and our team can’t continue to deal with this issue,” Cashman said, “especially when we have someone who can do the job better.”
That’s a very public way of dealing with an internal matter that would have short- and long-term ramifications. As the Yankees have evaluated their pitching prospects, Wang has always been a big part of their plans. He along with Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Al Aceves and Ian Kennedy made up the internal, cost-controlled pitchers who would complement the big free agents. With Wang lost, the Yanks’ plan relies very heavily on young talent.
Meanwhile, I don’t see the need to put so much emphasis on one start. Four days ago, I was ready to throw Chien-Ming Wang to the wolves. I couldn’t bear to watch the Yanks spot their opponents to four runs and have to rely on the bullpen to get 15 or 18 outs. Yet, after reading the comments on my game recap and having a few other discussions, I don’t believe the Yanks should be so easy to give up on Wang.
It is certainly important the Yankees field the top five guys who can best put them in a position to win right now. They’re two games out of the AL East and lead a hard-charging Tampa Bay Rays team (as well as the Angels and Blue Jays) by three games in the Wild Card. They need victories, and they can’t really afford to write off at least one out of every five games.
All things considered, though, if the Yankees believe that Wang’s problem is not physical and is only mechanical in such a way that confidence impacts his approach, they are doing themselves no favors in limiting their evaluation of him to one start. Chien-Ming Wang was 54-20 with a 3.79 ERA prior to this year. That isn’t talent readily available anywhere, and while I don’t believe the Yanks owe it to Chien-Ming Wang to let him pitch, they owe it to the team now and the team next year to straighten him out.
Removing him after one more sub-par start and exiling him to the bullpen or the scrap heap isn’t really a stellar solution. Finding the cause of the problem and fixing it is. That is, after all, why the team has a coaching staff.