Over the course of his major league career, Chien-Ming Wang has made just five relief appearances.
That number is likely to increase.
Manager Davey Johnson said today that when Wang returns to the Nationals after he's wrapped up his rehab stint, the 32-year-old right-hander will probably be used out of the bullpen, with Ross Detwiler holding onto the No. 5 spot in the Nats' rotation.
"When he comes up, I will probably start him in the bullpen," Johnson said of Wang. "That's probably the easiest no-decision. But I don't look at him as a reliever. I look at him as a quality major league starter."
Once viewed as a near-lock for the rotation during spring training, Wang's left hamstring injury suffered during a March 15 Grapefruit League game set him back and allowed Detilwer a chance to establish himself as part of the Nats' staff.
The lefty has done that, going 3-2 with a 2.75 ERA in seven outings entering tonight's start. Wang, meanwhile, has worked his way back to the point that he's nearly ready to rejoin the major league club. Unfortunately for him, there's no room for another starter in a Nats rotation which has been exceptional so far this season, putting up the best starters ERA in the majors at 2.63.
"It's no secret I really like Chien-Ming Wang," Johnson said. "I think he's a heck of a pitcher. I liked what I saw last year in his progression from that tremendous shoulder injury. I love the sinkerballer. He's got a great pedigree. ... (But) Detwiler has pitched himself into a role as one of the main guys for not only this year but for the future here.
"Everybody says it's a good problem to have, but probably not for the questions I'm going to get asked in this room, because there's no easy choice."
Johnson said he plans to keep Wang on a starter's schedule out of the 'pen, using him every fifth day, as he did last season with, ironically enough, Detwiler.
That will allow Wang to slide into the rotation should an injury or something pop up with one of the Nats' five starters. It will give Wang - who has overcome a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder - enough time to warm up before an outing, knowing the days he's set to pitch.
"If it was a Chien-Ming or a Detwiler, who can be an integral part in a big league rotation, I'm going to keep them and have them basically work on a five-day rotation so that I don't create any adverse arm problems or anything for them and also it's plenty of warm-up time," Johnson said.
Wang will make another start tonight for Triple-A Syracuse and then the Nats could either bring him up right away or wait for him to go another rehab outing before activating him off the DL. Wang can stay on his rehab assignment until as late as May 27.