Friday, February 18, 2011
Is Chien-Ming Wang fully recovered?
VIERA, Fla. -- For all the attention Stephen Strasburg received yesterday during his first official workout of the spring, there was another Nationals pitcher drawing even more attention.
Chien-Ming Wang, a national hero in Taiwan, was followed by the usual throng of media members that chronicles his every move. These reporters have spent a lot of time in Viera over the last year, because Wang has yet to even pitch in a minor-league game nearly two years since undergoing major shoulder surgery.
Wang has been throwing bullpen sessions for several weeks now, but yesterday represented the first time the full Nationals coaching staff (and D.C.-based media) had a chance to see him in months. And the evaluations weren't glowing.
There are no radar guns out on the practice fields, but Wang didn't appear to be throwing anywhere close to full velocity. He has a slow, deliberate motion that can be deceiving and make it appear he's not throwing as hard as he actually is. But if you watch the above video from the fine CSN crew that has joined me in town for several days, you'll notice he seems to be throwing from a very upright position and not really extending on his finish.
The Nationals weren't expressing concern, at least not publicly.
"From listening to people talk, when I went out and watched him throw, I saw that he's pretty much throwing like they described to me," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "I think it's important that every time out, he builds up. It's like anybody else coming in. His arm gets a little stronger. ... It's a step-by-step process. The surgery he had was pretty major. It takes time."
Indeed, Wang's surgery did not involve repairing the labrum or rotator cuff, the most common shoulder procedures for pitchers. His injury was to the shoulder socket, one rarely seen in baseball or any other sport. (Saints quarterback Drew Brees is the most notable athlete to have the same procedure done.)
There is no real road map for Wang or the Nationals to follow, because unlike pitchers recovering from Tommy John or labrum surgery, there isn't a set timetable to the rehab process. To be fair, Wang has made considerable progress since last spring, when he couldn't even throw off a bullpen mound.
"From what he was last year when he showed up to what he is now, yeah, there's been a big change," McCatty said. "He looks a lot better."
Wang also says he experiences no shoulder pain when throwing, which is obviously a good sign.
But one injury expert who watched the above video, SI.com's Will Carroll, noted a disturbing aspect to Wang's delivery: He isn't "pronating" as he releases the ball, a "turning over" of the wrist that leads to the kind of sinking action he needs to succeed.
"There's a 'hitch' in his release -- where he's normally been turning it over and making it sink, there's a discernible pause," Carroll wrote in an email to me last night. "That might be a positive in the long term -- he's thinking about a change and it will become more natural. On the other hand, it means he might not be able to make the pitch sink or get full velocity on it. It's not a good sign."
Whatever the case may be, it seems pretty clear Wang isn't anywhere close to being ready to pitch in the major leagues again. Only time will tell whether he can become comfortable enough to fully extend as he did pre-surgery, or whether he's simply going to have to be resigned to never regain his old form.
Posted by Mark Zuckerman at 7:00 AM