In the aftermath of Chien-Ming Wang’s steady and powerful outing against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, Davey Johnson faced the Washington baseball press. In light of Wang’s performance against the Braves, he was asked, would he recommend that the righty be offered a contract for 2012? Johnson didn’t hesitate: “No doubt about it,” he said, and then repeated it. “No doubt about it.”
Washington fans might rise to applaud this statement, particularly in light of Wang’s recent outings. The righty, signed by Mike Rizzo while still recovering from a blown out shoulder, has proven to be a good gamble. Wang has pitched no fewer than five innings in each of his last ten starts, and has pitched six complete in his last two — which includes today’s four hit 4-1 spectacular against Atlanta.
Johnson made it clear — he would have left Wang in to complete the game, but the bullpen needed work, and performed to their usual standards, with Gorzelanny, Clippard and Storen combining to hold the Braves to two hits in three complete innings of work. Drew Storen notched his 41st save on the season, and it’s probably not his last.
Wang made it look ho-hum-easy. He threw 85 pitches, 51 of them for strikes. His sinker looked as good as, or even better than, normal — a fact mentioned by Johnson, who said that the more Wang’s pitched, the more progress he’s made. His teammates in the infield agree. “He works quickly and he knows what he is going to do,” second sacker Danny Espinosa said. “When he has such a good plan like that, you stay active in case a ground ball [comes your way]. It keeps you in the game.”
Wang was even able to help his own cause at the plate. In the bottom of the 4th, he singled past first base into right field — scoring Espinosa. It was his first hit as a National, and his first in the majors. The crowd stood and roared its approval. “I had a bad record before,” Wang said of his hit. “All I wanted to do was just swing the bat, make contact, and I was kind of lucky. It was a line drive.
In notching their 77th win of the season, the Nationals put the Tomahawks in a squeeze — the Bravos needed a victory in their race for the Wild Card, and are now just two games ahead of the Musials. “We’ve got to win ballgames,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. “It’s nice to watch the scoreboard and all of that. But we’ve got to win the games that are in front of us.”
The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: There was an ovation for Chien-Ming Wang among the section’s regulars — and for Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, who might have been making his last start (or his last appearance) in a Nationals uniform. That fact was not lost on Davey Johnson, who noted that the Hall-of-Fame bound catcher has remained a positive force in the clubhouse. “He’s just fun to watch,” a section-mate added . . .
But there’s some disagreement about whether Pudge should come back next year. “If they bring him back it should be as a coach,” one fan noted. “He can’t catch up to the fastball, and the young catchers need him.” Another fan agreed. “There’s nothing wrong with two catchers — we have Wilson [Ramos] and Jesus [Flores] . . .”
There was also large reflections on the state of the team. “I’d keep that infield,” a fan said. “I wouldn’t trade any one of those guys.” There was some skepticism: “Not for B.J.? Hell, I’d give up Desmond for B.J., but not Espinosa.” The discussion thereafter nearly got testy. “Did you see Upton last night?” a fan asked. “It was embarrassing — and the Rays are fighting for something and he’s lollygagging into second. And then he argues the call and gets tossed. Unbelievable. So why inherit a problem?” There were nods: “That’s right, we don’t need another Elijah Pitts . . .”
Elijah Pitts? This brought silence, and while there was some disagreement about Upton, there was none about the need for another hitter. “Yeah, well this team needs a bat, or two” the Upton defender argued. “Put Morse back at first and get someone at the top of the line-up who can get on base and then someone down there in the middle if what’s his name decides to hit .229 again.” There was general assent, and a final word: “You don’t mean Elijah Pitts, you mean Elijah Dukes.”