Wang using spring to experiment
Sinkerballer misses bats with development of two new pitches
TAMPA, Fla. -- The last time Chien-Ming Wang faced the Indians, he lasted just one inning and the Yankees lost the American League Division Series. The last time he faced C.C. Sabathia, it was Game 1 of the same series and Cleveland rocked him for eight runs.
Wang's results were more of a mixed bag on Sunday, as he again faced the grinning Chief Wahoo logos that have provided so much recent difficulty. But the Yankees believe that by expanding his repertoire, Wang has become a much improved pitcher over the one who struggled mightily last October.
"He mixed his pitches a lot better today," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I thought he had better command."
Wang, 28, allowed four runs and six hits in a 4 1/3-inning, 75-pitch outing, walking two. He opened eyes by striking out seven -- an unusually high number for the sinkerballer, who typically relies upon putting the ball in play to keep his pitch count low and his infielders busy.
Explaining the increase in strikeouts, Wang said he used the Cleveland start as an opportunity to showcase his other pitches, a slider and changeup, which are continuing to develop.
Saying that both pitches are "getting better," Wang is now not afraid to use them as a part of his normally heavy arsenal. His confidence in the changeup is rising quickly, and pitching coach Dave Eiland has set a target of 10 changeups per game, an increase of about seven from last season's contests.
Even more importantly, the Yankees' catching tandem is not afraid to call for Wang's additional offerings.
"If he can do that all year long," Jose Molina said, "he won't have problems with it."
Broadcasting games on a limited basis for the YES Network last season, Girardi said he had already seen growth in the depth of Wang's slider and changeup. The manager expects to continue to see that progress.
"I think he'll continue to improve [to the point] where he doesn't have to rely on solely his sinker," Girardi said. "To me, that helps you if your sinker is a little bit off or if you're going through a lineup the third or fourth time. We want him to pitch deep into games."
Wang's biggest problems on Sunday came in the second inning, when Cleveland touched him for three runs on four hits, all singles. The Indians' runs scored on a Franklin Gutierrez fielder's choice, Jolbert Cabrera's sacrifice fly to left field and Grady Sizemore's run-scoring single to right.
After that inning, Wang said he began to feel more comfortable, retiring six of seven batters in the third and fourth innings. He insisted that there were no flashbacks to last year's ALDS, and Molina dismissed the idea that Wang had momentarily returned to October.
"If he was thinking about the playoffs, that's kind of bad," Molina said. "You've got to put that behind you. This is a new year. I don't think he was thinking about that at all."
With his pitch count rising, Wang left a four-seam fastball up in the zone to Sizemore leading off the fifth inning. The Cleveland center fielder didn't miss, depositing it into the right-field party deck.
It was the first home run allowed this spring by Wang, who gave up just nine in 199 2/3 innings last year.
In four Grapefruit League starts, Wang's ERA -- he has allowed 10 runs and 15 hits in 10 2/3 innings -- is an unsightly 8.44, skewed a great deal by a start on March 6 at Sarasota, Fla., in which he faced 10 Reds and couldn't escape the first inning.
Regardless, New York's probable Opening Day starter said there is no reason for concern.
"I'm not looking at the stats," Wang said. "Spring Training is the time to tune up and work on pitches."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.