03/28/08 10:00 AM ET
Wang draws prestigious start
Right-hander final Opening Day starter in Yankee Stadium
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
The right-hander will be issued the ball for the final Opening Day in Yankee Stadium's 85-year history, drawing the March 31 start against the Blue Jays.
"He's earned it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's won 19 games the last couple of years and he's thrown the ball well the last couple of years. I'm comfortable starting him Opening Day."
The start will come on Wang's 28th birthday, just a little more than a year after a strained right hamstring cost him most of April. Wang rebounded to tie a career high in wins for the second consecutive season, going 19-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 30 starts and establishing a career high with 104 strikeouts.
"I'm very happy," Wang said. "This is my first time on Opening Day. For me, it's big. I'm very excited. It shows that the coaches trust me. I still have a lot to learn."
Lauded for his bowling ball-like sinker and a repertoire that is expected to make use of his four-seam fastball, changeup, slider and splitter, Wang hasn't had a whole lot of success this spring, going 2-1 with an 8.44 ERA in 10 2/3 innings of Grapefruit League work.
But his track record speaks volumes: He has won more games (38) than any other big league pitcher over the last two years and leads the Majors with a .745 winning percentage in that time span.
Ranking second in the American League with a 2.75 home ERA and tying for third with 10 home wins, Wang is a logical choice to get the start in New York. His 21 wins in 33 Yankee Stadium starts over the last two seasons are the most home victories by any big league pitcher since the beginning of 2006.
He may have some added motivation as well. Wang missed last year's season opener after straining a hamstring during conditioning drills in late March -- he still remembers watching from his Tampa apartment as Carl Pavano drew the start for the Yankees.
Even more recently, Wang is still looking to rebound from a disastrous October in which he suffered a pair of losses in the Yankees' first-round playoff exit.
Wang has said that it took him a month to get over those games, in which he was roughed up for 12 runs and 14 hits in 5 2/3 innings. Pitching on three days' rest in the deciding Game 4 of the American League Division Series, Wang did not retire an Indians batter in the second inning.
"The two losses make me want to do even better this year," Wang said. "I want to make the coaches trust me even more in the future."
Girardi said that Wang's balanced and relaxed personality lends itself well to an assignment like Opening Day, and that he was glad Wang needed one month to get over his October disappointment.
"That tells me that he really cares and he wants to get better," Girardi said. "That actually excites me. I think he will continue to improve."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.