Wang passes first test on right foot
Healthy right-hander handles first-inning drag bunt with ease
TAMPA, Fla. -- Chien-Ming Wang says he no longer thinks about his right foot while pitching and that last year's injury has left his mind completely. Making his second Grapefruit League start on Saturday, the Yankees right-hander had an opportunity to prove it sooner than expected.
The play came as Wang faced the first batter of his start against the Atlanta Braves at George M. Steinbrenner Field, with speedster Josh Anderson pushing a bunt between the first-base line and the mound. Wang charged off the mound and scooped the ball to Mark Teixeira, recording the out and passing the first serious test of his spring.
"He might have to prove himself, but he made a pretty good play today," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I'm sure there's some scouts watching. He's moving off the mound pretty good."
Teixeira lauded Wang's ability to field his position, calling it "a great athletic play."
"The only play there is for him to go get it," Teixeira said. "If I go get it, Anderson is fast enough that he's going to beat me to the bag. The only chance is for Chien-Ming to get that ball, and he did.
"There aren't many pitchers that can make that play. It was probably a perfect bunt, and he did a great job."
All in all, Wang probably should have been more satisfied with his outing. He allowed one run in three innings, leaving a first-inning changeup high to Casey Kotchman that the Atlanta first baseman belted out of the park.
Other than that, Wang was solid, scattering three hits and walking none while striking out two. He threw 33 pitches, 27 for strikes, but said there was definitely room for improvement.
"The control is not there yet," Wang said. "Everything seems down the middle."
If the concern is hanging changeups, the Yankees will accept that for now. But Girardi said that he still can't help but gasp when Wang sends his body into motion on the field, even if it is something as mundane as covering first base.
Wang was lost for the season last June 10 at Houston with a right Lisfranc injury that required he be placed into a boot -- the second Lisfranc injury of the season for New York (reliever Brian Bruney also missed three months after falling down while covering first base on April 27 at Chicago).
"The way I saw it happen last year was kind of freaky," Girardi said. "Now that I've seen it happen twice freaky, there's a sense of a little paranoia there with all of our guys. I still worry about it, but what I do see is him pushing off that foot. To me, it looks strong, but it's in the back of my mind."
Having established his bread and butter with a bowling-ball sinker, Wang was able to log consecutive 19-win seasons before the injury cut short his 2008 campaign after eight victories. While he has been able to enjoy success so far, Wang also realizes that teams have learned to wait on his sinker, increasing the importance of more refined other pitches.
Wang tinkered with his slider and his changeup on Saturday, coming back with a diving offspeed pitch to strike out Anderson swinging in the third inning. That came after pitching coach Dave Eiland pulled Wang aside in a mound conference, telling him that he was not finishing his pitches.
"I thought his slider made a lot of progress last year, and I thought his change did as well," Girardi said. "His slider in Spring Training has had more depth than I've seen it in years past, which is good. It's going the opposite direction of a sinker and having some bite to it.
"The three pitches are important because you're going to face some teams that try to put a lot of lefties in, and that changeup can help him a lot."
The effort came on the same afternoon that China defeated Chinese Taipei, 4-1, to eliminate Wang's home country from the World Baseball Classic. Neither Wang nor Dodgers pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo were available to represent Chinese Taipei, and Wang said that the Yankees took first priority over taking part in the Classic.
"I really want to pitch for Chinese Taipei, but it's really hard for me," Wang said through an interpreter. "I still need to do some work for [the] Yankees. It would be a pleasure to play for Chinese Taipei, but I still need to do my work here."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.