The dozen or so Taiwanese media members present at Nationals camp this morning diligently ordered themselves just outside the third-base dugout, cameras ready to go.
Several players had fun with it, mugging for the cameras as if the attention was for them. But when Chien-Ming Wang emerged from the home dugout at Space Coast Stadium to a symphony of shutters and led his entourage to the outfield, it was clear a new wrinkle had developed in the Nationals’ universe.
Wang is the highest-profile Asian player in the team’s history, bringing with him a gaggle of reporters and the attention of the world’s most populous nation. If there was any doubt about how much his presence will change the Nationals, it disappeared Monday morning.
But from a pure baseball standpoint, Wang’s arrival doesn’t mean much yet. He came back Monday after continuing a throwing program in Arizona to rebuild strength in his surgically-repaired shoulder.
On Monday, he was scheduled to play catch from 120 feet with Jordan Zimmermann, another pitcher recovering from major surgery. He isn’t expected to be ready for a major-league game until May, and even then, it’s uncertain whether he can regain the form he had when he won a combined 38 games with the Yankees in 2006-07.
“I know how talented he is,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “But like anybody else, you’re vulnerable to elbow and shoulder problems. We hope that those are behind him by the time he gets on the mound, because he could be a real boost to this club.”
Riggleman refrained from putting a timetable on when Wang could get on the mound. But if he comes back, he could be a huge boost to the rotation in May or June. He throws a hard-sinking fastball, and would have a chance to be one of the Nationals’ top starters if he’s capable of regaining the form he had with the Yankees.
“I know the comments the hitters have made about him, that he threw hard and the ball really sinks,” Riggleman said. “He gives you a chance to have some quick innings, ground-ball outs. You just have to withhold judgment until he’s healthy, and I look forward to that day.”