Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Wang Question

We all know that Chien-Ming Wang has been awful this season, to say the least. He threw 91 pitches in extended spring training today, 70 for strikes. He allowed nine hits and four earned runs, but as Pete Abraham noted, the infields in extended spring are not in very good condition and are played by 18 and 19 year olds. What is more important is that Wang threw a lot of strikes today, and got eleven strikeouts. However, the 18 year old caveat still applies here, so even that does not tell us much. The only thing of substance we can draw from this appearence is this quote (from the article linked above):
He doesn’t have the arm strength he had last year,” Contreras said. “But he hasn’t pitched in eight months prior to this spring training. What I saw today, he had the best slider I’ve seen since I’ve known Chien-Ming. The slider has improved and the changeup is very good. His offspeed pitches are coming in really well.
This tells me that Wang is making progress but is still not where he needs to be. He obviously is not fully recovered from that eight month layoff, and he needs to build up arm strength. The best solution here is a DL stint. Since it would be retroactive to last saturday, he would only miss two starts if he was ready by then, but he would probably need a bit more time. The obvious candidate to replace him is Phil Hughes. Though he struggled early last season, he is fully healthy now and seems to have rediscovered the stuff that made him one of baseball's top pitching prospects. He currently has a 1.86 ERA in Scranton, and is lined up to take Wang's place in the rotation. From Chad Jennings' Blog:
Phil Hughes (right) struck out seven batters tonight: Two on fastballs, one on a cutter and four on a curveball that was much improved from his previous two outings. Hughes said he's been focused on the curveball during his side sessions, and felt like he got the feel for it heading into this start. It was sharp, and he was willing to throw it in just about any count, including three-ball counts when he needed to drop it for a strike.

“His curveball was outstanding," pitching coach Scott Aldred said. "Command of it was good. Break was good. He used it in good situations. To me he just pitched a much better game. He didn’t just go after guys with his fastball, then use his secondary. He mixed it up real good. No patterns. That was probably the best that I’ve seen him this year.”

If Hughes' curveball is truly back to where it was in this game, I think he will contribute immediately.