Chien-Ming Wang’s third start, which comes tonight at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, comes at a point where the Nationals should start to get some idea of whether the right-hander can still be an effective starter in the majors. They believe he can; he showed some signs of success with his sinker last Wednesday against the Braves before getting in trouble in the middle innings.
But he needs to throw the sinker - the pitch that made him a two-time 19-game winner for the Yankees - more often, instead of relying as much as he has on off-speed pitches. When he’s been effective, he’s used his sinker to keep his pitch counts down, and since his breaking ball is likely going to be the last thing to come back after shoulder surgery, he needs to trust his sinker to get him through for the time being.
The Nationals also get another look at Matt Garza, for whom they contemplated trading last winter. They beat Garza up last month at Nationals Park, scoring seven runs on eight hits against him in two innings before Livan Hernandez helped them blow a big lead and they lost 10-9. Garza has been stellar since then, pitching seven innings in four of his five starts and leaving the game with a shutout intact in two of them. But he was coming off a complete game the last time he faced the Nationals, too.
It’s an interesting pitching matchup for multiple reasons, but for the Nationals, seeing progress from Wang is the most important one. It seems likely he’ll be in the rotation the rest of this season, but whether or not he comes back next year will depend on what he shows this season. He doesn’t need to be dominant tonight, but facing a last-place team after getting a couple outings under his belt, he’s got a good chance to take a step forward.