Once upon a time, way back in 2006, Chien-Ming Wang finished second in the AL Cy Young voting. However, Wang hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since an abysmal 2013 season, during which he recorded a 7.67 ERA in twenty-seven innings with the Toronto Blue Jays. Last season, Wang tussled with AAA stints for Atlanta and Seattle and went 6-11 with a 5.88 ERA. His latest comeback attempt is the one of the most eye-opening developments of spring training. Not only is Wang healthy, but the 35-year-old suddenly has his arsenal back for the Kansas City Royals.
Last year, his velocity sat around 88-89 mph on the radar gun. With the help of pitching guru Ron Wolforth, Wang is turning up the heat like he did ten years ago, before the 2009 foot injury that destroyed his mechanics. Scott Kazmir’s story resembles Wang in that Wolforth helped Kazmir rediscover lost velocity, even though he wasn’t anywhere near the ten-year gap that Wolforth has seemingly overcome with Wang. Now, Wang is throwing even harder than the 93.1 mph he averaged in 2006. Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland was quoted as saying,”He looks now like the same pitcher I had eight or nine years ago. A little amazing.”
Most experts considered him a minor-league filler when he signed on with KC this winter. If Wang can retain this velocity until his May 1 opt-out date, he should be a candidate for a long relief spot in Kansas City. The Royals have a new face to consider for the fifth rotation spot. Redemption project Chien-Ming Wang has lit up radar guns at 94-95 mph in Surprise. Heading into Cactus league play last week, Wang had pitched a 1.50 ERA across four games, while striking out five batters in six innings. If he continues to look like this, the two-time defending American League champions might have to find a spot for him on a loaded roster.
The key for Chien-Ming Wang will be to show that his velocity will hold up over longer periods of time toward the close of spring training. The interesting thing is, if Wang maintains his velocity in longer outings, it could make the Royals more likely to send him to AAA than if they decided they didn’t want to push his recovered fastball. If Kansas City thinks he can help the big club as a starter, they will want to see him succeed in AAA starts before inserting him in the rotation. With the numerous off-days scheduled in April, general manager Dayton Moore could give Wang a month-long trial run in Omaha to see how his body reacts to a regular rotation turn before having to make a decision.
There is a large upside to adding another starter, and it would be very hard to dismiss. The Royals absolutely need to explore the possibility of Wang holding down a rotation spot before sending him to the pen. Wang’s arm was never the problem. It was his foot that cost him his velocity. Kansas City travels to New York for a series with the Yankees on May 9, giving the Wang comeback story a chance to play out on the mound he dominated for years during his prime.