Nationals among leaders for Wang

You might want to hold onto those pitching staff projections just a little longer. According to a source familiar with the situation, the Nationals are one of the teams that’s “way ahead of the pack” in pursuit of free-agent pitcher Chien-Ming Wang.

The 29-year-old Taiwanese pitcher, who won 19 games for the Yankees in both 2006 and 2007 but made just 24 starts in 2008-09 because of a variety of injuries, is ahead of schedule in his return from shoulder surgery. He is throwing without pain will be able to throw off a mound in a week to 10 days, which could be the final sign for interested teams the right-hander is healthy.

But according to the source, the Nationals have already made an aggressive effort to evaluate the pitcher.

“If you know (general manager) Mike Rizzo at all, you know they’re ahead of the pack,” the source said. “If there was a checklist of 20 things teams are doing, the Nationals are way ahead in their study.”

The source could not say if the Nationals had made an offer to Wang, but made it clear they’re in serious competition for his services.

The Dodgers are a serious possibility because of Wang’s history with manager Joe Torre while both were with the Yankees, the source said, but the Nationals “are right up there.”