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Chien-Ming Wang: Road to Washington

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Getty Images

I would say it certainly has been a roller-coaster ride for Chien-Ming Wang ever since he broke into the minor league affiliate teams of the New York Yankees. His road to the majors was a long one, spanning a little more than five years after he signed as an amateur free agent in 2000. He would spend the 2000 and 2002 seasons in low-A ball (he had shoulder surgery that sidelined him in 2001), 2003 in Trenton, split time between Trenton and Columbus in 2004, and finally make his way to the Bronx on April 30, 2005.

Seen as a heroic icon to the people of Taiwan, he certainly didn't disappoint Yankees fans. Over the course of his first three seasons in the big leagues, Wang accumulated a record of 46-18 and a 3.74 ERA. Being a sinker ball pitcher, he relied tremendously on his fielders and kept the ball on the ground consistently. It was somewhat unusual to see a strikeout, but rare to see a home run. Most importantly, he became a rock in the rotation and quickly transformed into the "ace" of the staff when he was named runner-up to Johan Santana as the 2006 Cy Young recipient. When the Yankees needed a win, Wang was there to deliver a great game.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. He After getting off to a fantastic start in 2008, Wang fell victim to base-running in Minute Maid Park in a game against the Houston Astros on June 15. He hobbled around third to score and immediately needed assistance in getting off the field. Extensive rehabilitation caused Wang to miss the remainder of the 2008 season and definitely had an impact on the Yankees missing their first postseason since 1995.

Then came the disastrous 2009. Many speculate that because of the torn ligaments in Wang's foot, he compensated by changing his pitching motion. Whatever the case, he wasn't the same. In his first three starts in 2009, Wang put together a stunning line of failure: 6.0 innings, 23 earned runs, 23 hits, six walks, and two strikeouts. The ground ball pitcher, who normally would retire around 60% of batters in that fashion, had induced only thirteen grounders in those three games compared to 23 fly balls and 12 line drives. After pitching only 1.1 innings in the laughable 22-4 Indians rout in only the third game in the New Yankee Stadium, enough was enough. Wang was sent to Tampa to work on his mechanics, arrived back in New York in May to work out of the bullpen, and still didn't have his old stuff. His final start came on Steinbrenner's and America's birthday, July 4.

Season-ending shoulder surgery in late July officially ended Wang's tenure in pinstripes and left serious questions about his future in Major League Baseball.

And then the Nationals came calling.

Washington offered a $2 million contract with up to $3 million more in incentives. As the calender progressed, Wang did not. His rehabilitation was said to be inconsistent and there was never a set time table for his return. As September rolled around, the Nationals finally acknowledged the fact that Wang would not be pitching for them in 2010. He was non-tendered at the conclusion of the season.

The Nationals decided to give it one last go in December by signing him to a $1 million contract, this time with up to $4 million in incentives. Finally, on June 27, Wang began a formal assignment in Hagerstown. He's made one start at low-A Hagerstown, one start at high-A Potomac, two starts at double-A Harrisburg and two starts at triple-A Syracuse. His overall line is respectable enough: 28.2 innings, 28 hits, four walks, 10 earned runs, 17 strikeouts.

Tonight, Chien-Ming Wang takes a major league mound for the first time since July 4, 2009 as the Washington Nationals take on the New York Mets. It was a long road to his premiere in the majors and it's been another long, difficult road his second time around. I've always liked and respected Chien-Ming Wang and wish him luck. It'd be great to see him revert to his old form and prove he can still pitch effectively.