Chien-Ming Wang will likely pitch out of the Nationals' bullpen once he comes off the disabled list next week, manager Davey Johnson said today.
Johnson's decision to use Wang as a reliever comes as a surprise, given the manner in which the Nationals have talked up the veteran right-hander and suggested all along he would not be a good fit in the bullpen.
The emergence of left-hander Ross Detwiler, though, all but forced the Nationals into making this unconventional move. Detwiler, who makes his eighth start of the season tonight against the Orioles, is 3-2 with a 2.75 ERA.
"Detwiler has pitched himself into a role as one of the main guys, not only this year but for the future here," Johnson said. "Everybody says it's a good problem to have, but probably not for the questions I'm going to get asked in this room. Because there's no easy choice."
Wang, who re-signed with the Nationals as a free agent in November for 4 million, was a projected member of the Opening Day rotation until he pulled his hamstring trying to make a play at first base in mid-March. He's been on the DL since, but his 30-day minor-league rehab assignment must end by May 27.
Wang is scheduled to start tonight for Class AAA Syracuse at Toledo, his fifth rehab appearance. Johnson said he'll make one more start before coming off the DL and then taking over a long relief role with the Nationals.
"When he comes up, I will probably start him in the bullpen," the manager said. "That's probably the easiest no-decision. But I don't look at him as a reliever. I look at him as a quality, major-league starter."
The Nationals will take some precautions with Wang, using him on more of a starter's schedule and giving him extra time to warm up before entering games.
During a brief stop at Nationals Park earlier this week, the 32-year-old suggested he would be open to pitching out of the bullpen. He's made five career relief appearances, all with the Yankees, and admits it wouldn't be the easiest transition.
"It might be a question," Wang said through interpreter John Hsu. "But I would like to try, and I would like to help."