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Chien up?

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff June 10, 2009 09:11 AM

Chien-Ming Wang has this going for him: He can’t be much worse than A.J. Burnett was last night.

Wang and his 14.46 ERA get the call for the Yankees tonight, as New York looks to win its first game vs. Boston this season. Last night, Best “Stuff” In The Game Burnett was atrocious for New York, managing just 2 2/3 innings in Boston’s 7-0 win, featuring yet another standout performance by Sox ace Josh Beckett. Sooner or later though, you know?

But as bad as Burnett was last night, there have been no worse results from any starter in Major League Baseball this season than what the Yankees have seen from Wang. In four starts, the former ace of the New York staff is 0-3 with an astounding 23.63 ERA (runner-up, Toronto’s Brian Burres with a 14.21 starting ERA). In 10 2/3 innings, he’s allowed 30 hits and 28 runs, all earned. The opposition is batting .526 against him as a starter. No surprise, that’s at the bottom of the league, where more than .100 points separate Wang from Jeremy Bonderman (.421).

And yet, since returning from the disabled list and being banished to the bullpen, it was a different story for Wang, who pitched eight innings of relief with a 2.25 ERA. That had to be a huge sigh of relief for manager Joe Girardi, who instituted Wang back into the rotation last week with fingers crossed.

The results weren’t great, but Wang was certainly better (4 2/3 innings, five earned runs) against the Rangers. Not like he could have been any worse than he was in April. But because the Yankees have seen marked improvement from their pitching (Team ERA in April: 5.79; May: 4.28 -- granted, with Wang’s absence from the rotation), perhaps they can remain patient with Wang for now.

Still, it sure doesn’t seem this is the spot for him to shine again.

Wang is 6-5 in his career against the Red Sox, and just 3-3 with a 5.11 ERA at Fenway Park. And mind you, those numbers are from when he was good. After the Red Sox dipped into the Yankee bullpen for 5 1/3 innings last night, odds are that it won’t take too much longer to get into it tonight either. Wang is limited to 85-95 pitches, according to Girardi, about the same number it took Burnett (84) to get through his 2 2/3 innings last night.

Side note: Here are the career numbers vs. Wang of the players on the current Red Sox roster (courtesy of baseballreference.com). Note David Ortiz's stats ...

                    **PA**  AB  H  2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG   OPS   +-----------------+-------+---+---+--+--+--+---+---+---+-----+-----+-----+-----+
 David Ortiz          42    36  16  4  0  2  11   6   5  .444  .524  .722 1.246 
 Julio Lugo           41    36   6  1  0  0   2   5   6  .167  .268  .194  .462 
 Kevin Youkilis       36    27   8  3  0  0   1   8   3  .296  .472  .407  .879                 
 Mike Lowell          29    24   5  1  0  0   1   4   2  .208  .345  .250  .595                 
 Jason Varitek        23    20   2  1  0  1   1   3   3  .100  .217  .300  .517                 
 J.D. Drew            18    17   4  0  0  1   4   1   0  .235  .278  .412  .690 
 Dustin Pedroia       17    16   5  3  0  0   1   1   0  .313  .353  .500  .853                 
 Rocco Baldelli       14    14   2  0  0  1   1   0   0  .143  .143  .357  .500                  
 Nick Green            8     8   2  1  0  0   0   0   0  .250  .250  .375  .625                  
 Mark Kotsay           6     6   2  0  0  0   0   0   0  .333  .333  .333  .666                  
 Jacoby Ellsbury       4     4   1  0  0  0   1   0   0  .250  .250  .250  .500  
+-----------------+-------+---+---+--+--+--+---+---+---+-----+-----+-----+-----+
 Total               238   208  53 14  0  5  23  28  19  .255  .349  .394  .743       
 

The Yankees can afford the bullpen burden Wang is sure to bring with CC Sabathia (47 innings pitched over his last six starts) taking the hill in tomorrow’s series finale vs. Brad Penny. Over the long haul, it’s a different story, which is why the Wang watch remains as fluid in New York as the concern in Boston over Daisuke Matsuzaka. The best that can be said about Matsuzaka is that he hasn’t been as dreadful as Wang.

Daisuke won’t take the hill under this weekend's series in Philadelphia (we apologize in advance, Phillies fans), where he can only hope to quiet down the evolving question marks surrounding him in a rotation eventually awaiting John Smoltz and Clay Buchholz. Unlike the Yankees with Wang, who’ll make $5 million this season, the Red Sox have an awful lot invested in their import from Asia, signed through 2012 with a no-trade clause to boot. Barring a mystery ailment, there seems little Terry Francona and John Farrell can do with him. Bullpen? It would remain to be seen why the team would want to willingly and significantly weaken its greatest strength.

But there’s no doubt Wang beats everybody in the all-not-so-important bobblehead category. I mean, how can a guy who looks cool as a cat in these $99.99 limited edition poses be unnerved on the mound?

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