Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang came into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Cleveland Indians with a 0-2 record and 28.93 ERA.
In allowing 15 hits and 6 walks in just 4.2 innings pitched, Wang looked more like a minor league journeyman than a man who finished runner-up for the Cy Young award just three years ago.
Things couldn’t possibly have gotten worse in his third start, right? Wrong.
Wang was lambasted and humiliated for the third straight time on Saturday, allowing 8 hits and 8 runs in just 1.1 innings. He further inflated his ERA to a sickening 34.50.
In fact, my previous comparison of Wang to a minor league journeyman was proven much more accurate than I originally intended.
Yankees emergency call-up Anthony Claggett produced virtually an identical pitching line to Wang’s. He allowed 9 hits and 8 runs over 1.2 innings, and threw gasoline onto an already blazing fire.
Once the smoke had cleared, the Yankees had suffered through a 14-run explosion that left them scrambling for answers.
Wang’s struggles go far beyond early-season inconsistencies, or rust caused by last year’s foot injury. An abnormality has turned into a haunting trend; one that could derail the confidence of a team looking to find itself.
Imagine if Mariano Rivera suddenly lost his ability to throw a cutter, eliminating the only true weapon he brought to the pitching mound each day.
Wang is experiencing this nightmare first hand, as his previously unhittable power sinker has morphed into a belt high batting practice fastball.
Opponents once described hitting against Wang as “trying to hit a bowling ball.” Now it appears he is simply placing the ball onto a tee for opposing hitters to launch into orbit.
Whatever adjustments pitching coach Dave Eiland is attempting to etch into Wang’s mind have been proven worthless. Many fans are already calling for Phil Hughes to immediately board a bus from Scranton, PA to the Bronx.
A pitcher’s four biggest assets are location, movement, speed variation, and top-end velocity (in that order). The concerning factor in Wang’s regression is that he has not shown even one of these skills thus far in 2009.
Though a small sample size, it is fair to be very concerned with Wang’s helplessness on a mound he once controlled.
Wang is so out or sorts that he is virtually unrecognizable. The Yankees must feel like the stars of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, wondering what happened to the man they once called their ace.
The calendar still indicates that we are in mid-April, and would normally provide enough of a relaxation mechanism to calm nerves.
Wang has been so consistently dismal, however, that it is impossible to ignore the truth. The Yankees need him to pitch like years past in order to make a run at the division title, AL pennant, or World Series Championship.
New York needs his ERA to mimic its stock exchange, rapidly declining in as short a time period as possible.
Perhaps “May’s showers” can help to cleanse Wang, washing away his failures and allowing him to start anew. Perhaps Eiland has a few more tricks up his sleeve to get the Taiwanese hurler back on track.
The Yankees better hope so, because their season ultimately depends on it.