Adjustments work wonders for Wang
Yanks' ace avoids overstriding, keeps ball down in strong start
TAMPA, Fla. -- Those of you holding tickets for the final Opening Day at the current Yankee Stadium, feel free to breathe a hearty sigh of relief.
He may not be perfect, but Chien-Ming Wang at least looks like he's back on track for prime time.
The anticipated No. 1 starter in the Yankees' rotation, Wang bounced back from a horrid Grapefruit League outing and kept the Blue Jays' bats quiet on Tuesday at Legends Field. The sinkerballing right-hander broke two bats and limited Toronto to a pair of singles, reaching his pitch count after 3 2/3 innings in New York's 6-1 victory.
"I'm still not 100 percent," Wang said. "I'm still not in game shape. But I'll get better."
Using four pitches -- his sinker, slider, four-seamer and splitter -- Wang essentially handcuffed the Jays, a team that has given him trouble in the past. He faced 13 Toronto batters and induced seven groundouts (including a broken-bat double play in the second inning by Frank Thomas), striking out one in a 58-pitch outing.
"When he's pounding that zone with that sinker, he's awful tough," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "That's what he does to you. He can handcuff you. He works it to both sides of the plate with an occasional slider. He was good today, but we knew that."
Mixing it up has been a necessity for Wang, particularly against American League East clubs. Toronto was one of the teams that hit Wang well in 2007, touching him for two losses and a 6.35 ERA in three starts, and sprinkling in more of a softer look has been a survival task.
Then again, night and day efforts have become the norm in camp, at least the last turn through the rotation. Even including Phil Hughes, who has been strong in every appearance this spring, the Yankees' other starters have enjoyed improvement as the schedule has gone on, allowing just three runs in their last 15 1/3 innings.
"It's what you want to see, because that means we're making progress," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Some pitchers go through that little arm period in Spring Training where they feel a little bit dead, but they've been exceptional."
It would have been difficult to get any lower than Wang was in his last appearance. He could not escape the first inning on Thursday at Sarasota, facing 10 Reds and allowing six runs before reaching his allotted pitch count.
On that day, pitching coach Dave Eiland took the ball from Wang, who would later admit he was "mad" to give the ball up that early. The only other time Wang remembered being lifted in the first inning was when he was wearing a Trenton Thunder jersey.
Come Tuesday, it was Girardi and the rest of the Yankees' infield who trotted out to the mound, greeting Wang and exchanging glove slaps before he received a warm ovation from the home crowd.
"Good job," Wang said, relaying Girardi's message. "Better than last time."
The improvement didn't come by accident. After his last start, Wang made an effort to break down his pitching mechanics with Eiland, watching video to try to stay back and keep the ball down. He also tried a slightly different delivery while throwing a dry side session.
In Sarasota, Wang thought he was overstriding on the mound, dropping his leg in front of his body, so a heavy bullpen session with catcher Jorge Posada earlier this week was of particular importance.
Posada was enthusiastic throughout, pumping his fist and yelling, "Attaboy," as fans watched the 75-pitch workload from a walkway above the bullpen six-pack.
Some of the tweaks, Posada said, may have been necessary since late last year, when Wang struggled and took two of the Yankees' losses in the American League Division Series against the Indians.
"The delivery got a little bit off toward the end part of the year last year," Posada said. "When he was in the stretch [this week], he was a lot better than he was from the windup. Then he took that stuff to the windup and he looked good."
Against the Jays, Eiland said the slider was sharp late, the changeups were good and the hard sinker -- repeatedly referred to as a "bowling ball" by former pitching coach Ron Guidry -- is beginning to dive.
With two turns to go before Opening Day, Wang appears to be back on track.
"He made the adjustments he needed to make," Eiland said. "It was a very positive outing for him."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.