When the Yankees and Chien-Ming Wang avoided arbitration to settle on a one-year deal worth $5 million in the offseason, it was hard to believe that a two-time 19-game winner (2006-2007) would earn a fraction of some of his teammates' and fellow starters' salaries.
Now 63 games into the season, it's hard to believe a pitcher with a career .692 winning percentage in 100 starts can struggle as badly as Wang has.
After putting together the worst three starts imaginable to begin the season, Wang found himself on the disabled list trying to regain the arm strength he lost when he went down for the season last year with a torn Lisfranc ligament in his right foot.
But since his return to the Yankees, Wang has been unable to take the mound as the pitcher with the devastating mid-90s sinker.
And even with four earned runs allowed in just 2 2/3 innings of work in his start at Fenway last Wednesday, Joe Girardi kept his faith in the righty who started the season as the Yankees' No. 2 starter.
“We work on mechanical stuff and we work on mental stuff, but when he’s standing out there alone, there’s not a whole lot I can do for him,” Girardi told the New York Times. “I believe in him, and he knows I believe in him, but ultimately he has to throw the pitch.”
Wang will get what sounds like one more audition on Wednesday against the Washington Nationals to prove he belongs in the rotation. If he can't show signs of his former self against a team challenging MLB history for the worst record ever, who can he pitch well against?
"As I told him, it's important that he has a real good start," Girardi told the New York Daily News. "He needs to show us that he's fully back, because at some point, production is important. We told him it's a very important start."
The Yankees have put together a 36-27 record, third best in the AL, without receiving a single win from Wang so far. If Wang can return to his dominant self, Girardi's rotation will get a big boost and be solid from one to five.
"We need Chien-Ming Wang," general manager Brian Cashman told Newsday. "We know what he's capable of. The velocity and the sink are there. Maybe his confidence isn't there."
And as he searches for the answer as to why his pitching isn't the same as it was, Wang knows he is lucky to be getting another start. With wins in the AL East at a premium in what is certainly shaping up to be a tight race, Wang knows he has one last shot to perform.
"He's giving me one more chance," Wang told the Daily News. "I have to pitch good. I know that."
But aside from the void left by Wang's disappointing performance, the bullpen has been the biggest question mark for the Yankees. With Girardi trying to build a new bridge to Mariano every game, the tri-state area has gotten restless begging for Joba Chamberlain to return to the bullpen.
With setup man Brian Bruney due back from the disabled list, Girardi's late-inning relief will once again have one of its most important pieces.
"If we can get Bruney back, that's one of the biggest needs.If it's the Brian Bruney that we hope to have, that would go a long way toward taking care of things for us," Cashman told the Journal News. "When the dust settles, it's really fixable what we have here."
If the Yankees can get Wang back on track and plug the eighth-inning hole with Bruney, it's possible the Yankees could take this July 31st trade deadline off for the first time in a long time. The return of the real Wang and a healthy Bruney to the pitching staff would be just as good as if Cashman had made a pair of midseason blockbuster deals.
"If we fix ourselves, there may not be anything we do," Cashman told the Journal News.
In the past, the Yankees have added big names like David Justice, Aaron Boone, Esteban Loaiza, Bobby Abreu, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to plug holes on their 25-man roster. But in other years the Yankees were able to fill their needs from within the organization, as was the case with Joba Chamberlain in '07.
Right now the Yankees can attend to both their starting rotation and bullpen needs without making a deal for outside help. And sometimes that is the way to go. But first Wang and Bruney most show they are ready to compete at a high level once again.