As Steve referenced below, Chien-Ming Wang pitched in an extended spring training game yesterday and was uninspiring. Here is what Nardi Contreras had to say, via Pete Abraham:
“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.”
You know what that sounds like? It sounds like a report you might get on a pitcher two starts into spring training. Wang clearly has some conditioning issues to work through due to his long layoff, and those are the kind of issues that you cannot work out while pitching in the major leagues. I would be shocked if the Yankees did not put him on the DL and have him pitch rehab starts for a while. I bet that we do not see him for at least a month.
The obvious replacement for Wang is Phil Hughes, who apparently looked great in his last start. From Chad Jennings:
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……..”
All told, though, he was outstanding. He went through four innings — the fourth through the seventh — getting every out either on strikes or in the infield. His re-discovered curveball gave him three outstanding pitches, with his fourth pitch, the changeup, still a work in process.
The most important thing that I took from this piece was the implicit point that the cutter is now an effective and permanent part of Phil’s arsenal. With three major league quality pitches working well for him, he should be better prepared to face major league hitters than he was last year. If Wang is in fact placed on the DL, Hughes is likely to get the call to start Tuesday in Detroit. Hopefully he seizes the opportunity and creates a situation where the Yankees would be hard-pressed to send him down upon Wang’s return.
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