In the wake of a NY Daily News report that the Mets planned to open the season with RHP Zack Wheeler in the bullpen, manager Mickey Callaway said Wednesday that Wheeler is "definitely a starting pitcher."
"For us to be the best possible team we can be, we have to have him be a starter," Callaway added. "And he's gonna go out there and do everything he can to win this competition that we have going on."
Wheeler will start the Mets' Grapefruit League opener on Friday.
The Daily News report had cited the Mets' signing of LHP Jason Vargas to a two-year deal as a reason why they expected to begin the season with Wheeler in the bullpen.
After the team signed Vargas last week, Wheeler was brief with reporters when explaining that his focus was on being a starting pitcher -- refusing to address a potential move to the bullpen.
The next day, Wheeler expressed regret for being so short with his answers and said he understood why that might have been construed as anger, but said that any addition to the team is good.
"I shouldn't have been short about it," Wheeler said. "Anybody who comes and helps out or team is always a plus. ... I barely pitched in two and a half years. I totally understand it."
The 27-year-old Wheeler, who underwent six-months of bone-strengthening injections this offseason in an effort to stay healthy in 2018, had a 5.21 ERA and 1.58 WHIP with 81 strikeouts in 86.1 innings (17 starts) for the Mets in 2017. His last start came on July 22. Roughly a month later, Wheeler was shut down for the season due to a stress reaction in his right arm.
Wheeler missed the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons due to Tommy John surgery and setbacks during the recovery process. Prior to having Tommy John surgery, he had a 3.42 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in his rookie season of 2013, and a 3.54 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 2014.
Mets manager Mickey Callaway suggested the day after Vargas signed that the team would not use a six-man rotation this season.
Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Wheeler has spent the better part of three years working his way back from Tommy John surgery, so his frustration last week was somewhat understandable -- even though the optics were bad. And regardless of what Callaway said on Wednesday, Wheeler is simply the most logical choice to move to the bullpen.
With Vargas, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard locks for the starting rotation, and the team not going to a six-man rotation, it leaves two spots to be fought for by Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Robert Gsellman, and Seth Lugo. Of those five pitchers, Harvey -- if healthy -- is someone who will certianly claim one.
That means that there is one spot left for either Wheeler, Matz, Gsellman, or Lugo. Matz struggled last season as he pitched through pain, but he was quite effective in 2016 and 2015 -- while Wheeler hasn't been an impact pitcher since 2014. The choice is simple. And that choice is Wheeler in the bullpen, with Gsellman and Lugo likely in Triple-A Las Vegas.
Wheeler has had trouble working deep into games throughout his career. So perhaps a move to the bullpen was always inevitable. And while his command issues (his career BB/9 is 4.0) don't make him the most ideal fit for a relief role, his fastball (which averaged 95.4 mph last season) should play up in the 'pen.
And if Wheeler, who is set for free agency after the 2019 season, reinvents himself as a late-inning reliever, he shouldn't have any trouble securing a lucrative deal with the way teams are now valuing those kind of arms.
In the meantime, if the move is successful, the Mets should have an incredibly strong back-end of the bullpen with Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, AJ Ramos, Anthony Swarzak, and Jerry Blevins.