Chien-Ming Wang was back with the Nationals today, throwing a bullpen session under the watchful eye of pitching coach Steve McCatty and talking with some teammates in the Nats' clubhouse.
The veteran right-hander showed on Monday that he is nearing a return to the major leagues, working into the ninth inning in a rehab start with Triple-A Syracuse. Wang will now make at least one more start with Syracuse before getting called up to the big league club.
The widespread speculation is that Wang will move into the Nationals' rotation, bumping either Ross Detwiler or possibly Edwin Jackson to the bullpen. But today, Wang suggested that he would be open to coming out of the 'pen, if that's what the Nats ask him to do.
"I still need to follow the team, no matter what happens," Wang said through interpreter Josh Hsu. "Maybe they want me to be a bullpen guy. That's what I've got to do."
Wang has made five career relief appearances, including three with the Yankees in 2009 before he suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Because of the history with the shoulder injury and the elongated warm-up regimen he goes through before he pitches, however, it's hard to picture the righty being able to come out of the bullpen, where he could be needed on short notice.
"It might be a question, but I would like to try and I would like to help," Wang said.
Manager Davey Johnson has implied in the past that using Wang in relief would be less than ideal, and he reiterated those thoughts today.
"I look at him as a quality starter. That sinker works against a lot of clubs, left or right," Johnson said. "Again, needing to worry about where all the places are in the rotation and the bullpen is premature. Hopefully, nobody gets injured between now and then, and we'll be dealing from strength. But I never waste any time figuring out what I'm going to do it until the time comes."
Wang allowed four runs against Rochester on Monday, but more importantly, he had a good feel for his sinker and was able to work deep into the game and elevate his pitch count, which he got above 90 before being pulled in the ninth.
"That was really important for me because the pitch mark was a landmark for me," Wang said. "I wanted to finish about 100. When I finished eight innings the pitching coach told me it was about 80-something so we decided I would go back out for the ninth."
Overall, Wang has worked 25 innings over his four rehab starts this season, going 3-0 with a 2.88 ERA.
When Wang returns, he could be bumping multiple guys out of spots. Someone will need to be dropped from the 25-man roster to allow for Wang to rejoin the Nats, and if he does end up going into the rotation, one of Washington's starters will need to go to the 'pen. He said that would be tough for him personally because he's close with a lot of the Nats' hurlers, but hopes to match the success they've had when he returns.
"I'm really enjoying watching them pitch," he said. "They really have good stuff and I'm just glad that they're able to go and help out the team. Hopefully I can do the same thing when I come back here."
And that time could be coming soon.
"I'm ready," Wang said. "But I need to follow the direction from the team."