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Chien-Ming Wang is close to returning to the Nationals' rotation.
"I'm ready," Wang said through interpreter John Hsu. "But I need to follow the direction from the team."
Out since mid-March with a pulled hamstring, Wang has made four rehab starts at three levels of the Nationals' farm system, capped by Monday's outing at Syracuse in which he pitched into the ninth inning.
Stamina-wise, the veteran hurler believes he's ready to start a big-league game. The Nationals, though, have been trying to delay his return as long as possible and thus delay having to decide which member of their rotation will lose his job as a result.
Manager Davey Johnson said Wang will make another start for Syracuse (Saturday night at Toledo). His 30-day rehab stint must end no later than May 27, so Wang could possibly start one more minor-league game before that.
"I really liked what I'm seeing," said Johnson, who watched Wang's last start on television. "Giving him that other start I think is going to get him a little bit stronger, so when he comes in, he'll come in kind of on an even keel with everybody else. Everybody else in the starting rotation is throwing the heck out of it. There's no real rush to make that change."
Left-hander Ross Detwiler is the most-likely candidate to move from the rotation to the bullpen upon Wang's return, though veteran right-hander Edwin Jackson has pitched in relief before.
Wang understands the effect his activation off the disabled list will have on his teammates.
"It's really tough for me," he said. "All of them and I, we're close. As a teammate, I really don't want to see that kind of situation. But, like I said, I still need to follow the team, no matter what happens. Maybe they want me to be a bullpen guy. That's what I've got to do."
Wang has pitched in relief five times in his career (once a piece in 2005 and 2006, three times in 2009) and said he could do it if asked, though he would need extra time to warm up before entering the game.
Johnson didn't entirely rule out the possibility, but he sounded pretty committed to keeping Wang in a starting role.
"I mean, I love his stuff," the manager said. "He's got a great sinker. I love bringing a sinkerballer into the ballgame. But I look at him as a quality starter."