Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Chien-Ming Wang throws a pitch during today's intrasquad minor-league game.
"It was ugly," he said.
Standing near that same field down the road from Space Coast Stadium this afternoon, Johnson again watched Wang face minor leaguers from the Nationals' organization in an intrasquad game. What he saw bore no resemblance to that last encounter.
What he saw was a full healthy pitcher merely preparing for the start of the season.
"What I'm seeing now, I've kind of got him in that [Stephen] Strasburg mode: He's back," Johnson said, referring to another right-hander who has fully recovered from major surgery. "Now it's just giving him as much work as he needs to get ready for opening the season."
The first step for Wang came today on Field 3 in Viera. He threw two innings against minor leaguers, allowing one unearned run on four hits, striking out three without walking a batter. He threw a total of 31 pitches, 24 strikes, then retreated to the bullpen to another simulated inning and build up his arm strength.
Wang's fastball velocity -- 88-89 mph consistently, topping out at 91 mph -- was down a tick from where it was at the end of last season. But that's the case with all healthy pitchers in early March, who are merely building themselves up to be in peak form around Opening Day.
Team officials were encouraged last fall when Wang returned from a two-year recovery from shoulder surgery and posted a 4.04 ERA in 11 starts. They're even more encouraged this spring.
"I thought these two innings right here were better than his two innings usually at the start of a game last year," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "I thought there was better arm strength. I thought the movement was good. I was real pleased with it."
Wang did allow a couple of well-struck, extra-base hits to prospects Brian Goodwin and Randolph Oduber on flat sliders, and afterward acknowledged his breaking balls still need more work.
But he feels comfortable enough with his trademark sinker to tinker around with more breaking stuff, including a curveball he's attempting to add to his repertoire this spring.
The difference between today and last September is stark.
"Actually I feel better today compared to last season," Wang said through interpreter John Hsu. "Because during the offseason I work out and try to build up my arm strength. I think I feel better now."
Wang's next outing will come in five days, against the New York Mets at Space Coast Stadium. Left-hander John Lannan, also battling for the final spot in the Nationals' rotation, will start that same day in the other split-squad game against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland.
For now, the Nationals have no complaints.
"It was what I was expecting to see," Johnson said. "And I wasn't disappointed."