Everyone seems to be asking the same question — what will Nats’ manager Davey Johnson do when Chien-Ming Wang returns to form? The question is particularly sticky, as it now appears that Chien-Ming actually has returned to form, putting in a number of “rehab” starts in Syracuse that show he’s more than ready to be called up to the big club.
Federal Baseball reviewed the Wang situation earlier this week, with a detailed analysis that questions whether the former Yankee might be penciled in as a replacement for the suddenly shaky Ross Detwiler. The article quotes Davey Johnson extensively, while noting that John Lannan has traditionally been designated the Nationals’ potential first fill-in. That has apparently changed.
Will Detwiler be replaced? Federal Baseball provides useful speculation — based on what we know of how Davey Johnson runs things on the field. “Another rough outing for Detwiler probably won’t change things, but as the Nats proved in picking Detwiler over Lannan at the start of the season, they’re going to do what they think gives them the best chance to win,” the FB article notes, “even if it means making a tough decision that’s going to upset one of their pitchers. Just ask John Lannan.”
The Nats Blog asks a prior question — whether Wang will ever live up to the potential he had when he was a starter for the Yankees. “Will The Investment In Chien-Ming Wang Be Worth It?” Patrick Hilley asked. Good question, but the jury remains undecided. Injuries derailed a good start to a promising career and have continued to interrupt a pitcher who has a devastating breaking ball. If only he could stay on the field.
Yeah, okay . . . but — what does Davey do? Does he rotate Detwiler and Wang, setting up an in-house competition? Does he bite the bullet and decide that Detwiler needs more seasoning? Does he slot in Wang for a single start just to see how he does? Does he stick with Detwiler no matter what? Or does Mike Rizzo take any number of teams up on their offers and ship Wang elsewhere?
If past is prologue, then Johnson will do what he has always done. Even when one of his players is clearly struggling Johnson smiles and nods and dances with his date. He “shows confidence” in his starters, shrugs his shoulders at their problems, and tells the press that they’ll get back on track. MASN reporter Byron Kerr has this right: Johnson’s solution to a pitcher’s struggles is to “leave him in.”
It will be no different for Ross Detwiler. So while everyone has been quoting Johnson on how much he just loves Chien-Ming Wang (“I think [Wang is] a heck of a pitcher,” he said last week, “I liked what I saw last year in his progression from that tremendous shoulder injury. I love a sinker baller”), our bet is that he will stick with Detwiler until it’s obvious to everyone that a change is needed. That could take a while and, if truth be told, it might never happen.
Let’s remember. While Detwiler has had his problems lately, but it wasn’t so long ago that everyone was singing his praises. Then too, Wang’s stay at Triple-A ends on May 27. which means that he (and Detwiler) will each undoubtedly have one more start. And unless Detwiler completely implodes, he’ll remain the fifth starter until it’s clear he can’t handle the load. For Johnson, and the team, that’s win-win. And here’s why:
Anything that Wang can do in nine, he can do in two or three — which makes him a long reliever with a lights-out sinker-baller that complements a pen of flamethrowers and finesse artists. Given that, it’s not the fate of Detwiler that’s in doubt, but bullpen arms that are underused, or undervalued, or simply aren’t producing. More simply, you have to ask whether, when the music stops, a guy like Ryan Perry will still have a chair.