Chien-Ming Wang will make his fifth start since coming back from shoulder surgery tomorrow, and in his first four outings, he's given the Nationals enough reason to think he can still pitch in the major leagues that manager Davey Johnson discussed the chances of Wang returning in 2012 - a scenario that would have looked like an impossibility a few months ago.
Wang, who has a 4.22 ERA in his first four starts, will be a free agent after the season, but Johnson sounded open to putting him in the rotation next year if he were to re-sign with the team.
"With his pedigree and his background, the more time he gets to pitch in big-league games, as far as I'm concerned, he's just going to keep making progress," Johnson said.
It's not lost on Johnson that Wang won 19 games in both 2006 and 2007 for the Yankees, and he reiterated again on Saturday that he'd like to go into next season with seven or eight options he can count on to start. Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan all figure to be there, and the Nationals could sign a veteran, but they might also turn to younger pitchers like Ross Detwiler, Brad Peacock or Tom Milone. Keeping Wang in the rotation would give them another pitcher with a record of past performance.
Any decision to keep him, though, would have to be at the right price. The Nationals signed Wang to incentive-laden deals before the 2010 and 2011 seasons, working with him through nearly two years of rehab, and Johnson hoped that would curry some favor with Wang and his agents at Octagon Sports. How he fares the rest of this season will likely set his market for this winter.
"If he regains the form he had, it's probably going to be, 'Can we afford it?'" Johnson said. "Helping him through his rehab program and all that, hopefully we'll be high on his list."