Wang starts today; agent optimistic about deal with Nats

Nearly eight months after they signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract, the Nationals will finally see right-hander Chien-Ming Wang pitching in a game today. The pitcher, who missed the entire 2010 season while rehabbing after shoulder surgery, will only throw an inning today, but the simple act of facing hitters in a game again is a major step forward.

Wang had shoulder surgery in July 2009, and the Nationals signed him hoping they’d have him back sometime in 2010. But as the season wore on, the complexities of Wang’s rehab became more apparent and the likelihood of getting him on the mound for the Nationals grew more remote. General manager Mike Rizzo said several times this year there was no baseball precedent for the kind of shoulder surgery Wang had - the closest parallel was New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, he said - and the Taiwanese pitcher’s tedious rehab went from bullpen sessions, live batting practice and playing catch, seemingly interminably.

“t’s a long process, every day, doing the same thing, not sure about what the next month’s going to bring,” said Alan Chang, who works with agent Alan Nero and serves as Wang’s interpreter. “Everybody’s affected through the rehab. But he has a perseverance about him. Now, he’s beginning to understand and getting used to his new shoulder. ... He’s starting to get that feeling again. You’re starting to see his smile.”

Wang spent the entire season in Viera, Fla., away from the Nationals and spending the entire summer in the hot Florida sun. His solace through the entire process has been family; he’s been able to spend the entire year with his wife, Chia-Ling Wu and watch his son Justin (who turned one in June) learn how to walk.

“This is a blessing in disguise, too,” Chang said. “If he was playing, he would miss out on the kid’s first year. He goes to do rehab every day in one location, but he gets the opportunity to be with his family.”

Wang’s first step today is a tentative one; the Nationals want to see how he progresses this fall before determining what to do with him next season. He is arbitration-eligible after the season, and if the team offered him arbitration, Wang would make no less than $1.6 million next season.

But general manager Mike Rizzo has said he is optimistic about reaching a deal with Wang before the arbitration process - which would offer the Nationals some cost savings after rehabbing Wang all year - and Nero said both sides are confident “we’ll be able to come to some sort of agreement,” though he also stressed it’s all contingent on Wang’s progress.

“I think we were all more optimistic that he would have been further along,” Nero said by cell phone from Tokyo. “In the meantime, he’s not had any major setbacks. He’s been making steady progress, everybody around him is optimistic. We’re excited about what comes next.”