Then came wins over the Chicago Cubs and Tuesday over the Cincinnati Reds, where he surrendered four runs in two starts, showing the potential of Wang in a Nationals uniform.
He still has a long ways to go, but to see a positive turn in results, where he was pitching out of bad spots, even without his best stuff, was certainly a good sign after such a long layoff.
So which is it? Is Wang back or does he have a ways to go?
Tuesday his sinker was not at its best but he did adapt. And he came out of the blocks slowly, as he has done in three of his first four chances with the Nationals.
Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty was concerned when the Reds raced out to a pair of runs off three hits in the first inning. Manager Davey Johnson reasoned with McCatty that Wang was going to be fine.
“McCatty told me he was watching him and said ‘he was too strong, too strong,’ ” Johnson said. “I said, ‘No, he is just getting loose.’ He is getting the ball a little bit up, but sometimes you don’t make perfect pitches.”
Wang said he needed to rely on his other pitches when the sinker was not going where he wanted it to go.
Through his translator, Wang said, “When the sinker is not sinking I try to find out a solution, maybe mix in the changeup or slider and get both down, and try to get more batters out.”
Wang got help from his defense, and was able to mix other pitches in to get guys out. Johnson said Wang found a way to get those outs even with his patented sinker not doing what he wanted it to do for most of the night.
“(The Reds) are a pretty good hitting ball club,” Johnson said. “He pitched a heck of a ball game. He got the ball up a little late (in the sixth inning). I probably (let him go) one hitter too long. He threw a lot of great pitches. He actually threw more breaking balls tonight. I was really pleased with his effort.”
That is two games in a row where Wang has allowed just three runs in his first six innings. But Wang continues to have trouble missing bats, shown by the three total strikeouts in four starts, a span of 21 1/3 innings, none on Tuesday.
In his first three starts, his swinging strike percentage was just 2.6 percent, according to fangraphs.com, the lowest percentage of his career. In the last three seasons he pitched, his swinging strike percentage hovered around 7 percent, still below the league average of 8.6 percent. Serviceable certainly, but under 3 percent makes it difficult to survive very long in games.
The more telling statistic, though, is the amount of contact opposing hitters are making on his pitches. The “On-Contact percent,” the percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown outside the strike zone, is a whopping 96.7 percent in Wang’s three starts this season.
The statistics bore out on Tuesday, when the Reds swung and missed just twice, during Drew Stubbs’ at-bat in the fifth.
The Reds’ helped Wang’s cause by putting the ball in play on his first pitch of the at-bat nine times in 6 1/3 innings.
But Wang did allow only four runs on seven hits, with one walk. He threw just 60 pitches, 39 for strikes. It was his second straight good start and proved the win at Chicago was no fluke.
This was Wang’s first win at home since May 2, 2008, with the New York Yankees in a 5-1 win over Seattle. It marked the first time since June 10 and 15, 2008, that he won two decisions in a row (at Oakland and at Houston).
So, there is concern certainly for the Wang’s overall strikeout and swing and miss totals. But with his sinker not perfect, Wang found a way to win somehow, and that is the best sign that he continues to take positive strides towards returning close to the spectacular form he displayed four seasons ago.