The last time Chien-Ming Wang walked off a major league mound, he may not have envisioned it would take him more than two years to make his next start.
After battling a career-threatening shoulder injury, the former two-time 19-game winner makes his return Friday night for the Washington Nationals when they open a three-game set against the visiting New York Mets.
Wang last pitched with the New York Yankees on July 4, 2009, then had season-ending surgery two weeks later to repair a torn capsule in his right shoulder. The right-hander did not have his contract renewed by the Yankees, and the Nationals signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract prior to last season hoping he could join the team midseason.
Wang, who also suffered a foot injury in 2008 which may have contributed to his 1-6 record and 9.64 ERA in 2009, did not recover in time and signed another one-year deal with Washington prior to this season.
Wang, set to return after six rehab starts, is 2-1 with a 4.57 ERA in three career starts against the Mets.
Manager Davey Johnson said Wang will be limited to between 80 and 90 pitches, though he threw 96 in his last start for Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday.
The Nationals (49-55) hope Wang can provide a spark to a team which has lost five straight and nine of 12 since heading into the All-Star break at the .500 mark. They fell to Florida 5-2 on Thursday, scoring two or less runs for the third time in four games.
"The last couple nights, I think we just lost focus a little bit, and we need to get back on track," said outfielder Jayson Werth, who had two RBI singles.
The Mets (54-51) have been rolling and won their fourth straight Thursday, one day after trading All-Star Carlos Beltran to San Francisco. New York completed its first four-game road sweep since June 8-11, 2006, after beating Cincinnati 10-9.
"The last two games speaks volumes about these guys," manager Terry Collins said. "They were drained. They were wiped out physically. They were wiped out mentally. They were playing strictly on nothing but game adrenaline."
Lucas Duda, who replaced Beltran as a full-time outfielder, went 2 for 4 and drove in three runs on a bases-loaded double. He had two hits in his previous seven plate appearances, both home runs.
"I knew he had it in him," Collins said. "He's a dangerous offensive player."
Dillon Gee (9-3, 3.75) has pitched well against Washington and will look to continue his surprising run. The right-hander threw 7 2-3 innings while allowing two hits in a 1-0 victory over Washington on May 19. Last season, Gee allowed one run and two hits in seven innings of a 4-1 win over the Nationals on Sept. 7.
Gee went 7-0 with a 2.65 ERA over his first nine starts, a pleasant surprise for the Mets who had Gee coming out of the bullpen at times early on. Gee, however, is 2-3 with a 4.89 ERA over his last seven starts. During that span, his ERA as a starter has increased nearly a full run from 2.65 to 3.55.
He's pitched better in his last two starts. Gee beat St. Louis on July 19 when he allowed two runs in seven innings, then he didn't earn a decision in a 5-4 loss to Florida on Sunday after giving up three runs in five innings.
New York has won five of eight meetings with Washington.