Neither Zack Wheeler or Steven Matz is likely to pitch in relief, at least according to the variety of Mets people I have talked with during the last week or so.
I suppose it could happen at some point this season, such as down the stretch or during a postseason roster crunch.
However, for now, because of their respective histories with arm and other injuries, and the amount of time it takes both pitchers to get warm, I believe the organization thinks it would be foolish to make such a switch in roles without first doing a long and methodical transition.
That said, with eight men capable of being starting pitchers, and at least 10 being considered for the bullpen, it makes for a complicated game of baseball music chairs -- not just in terms of the Opening Day roster, but regarding what happens after the season starts, who gets used when and why, and how they all get ample rest... but not too much rest, of course.
Regardless of what happens the next two weeks, the bullpen will obviously include Jeurys Familia, AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins, Anthony Swarzak, and Paul Sewald; and the rotation will include Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Jason Vargas, and Matt Harvey.
But what happens to Wheeler and Matz, not to mention Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, all of whom are better than Triple-A, but seemingly left without a definitive big-league chair for April.
I agree with the thinking that Wheeler and Matz need to be starting a game every fifth day. It's not that I don't think they can pitch in relief. It's just, like my sources have said, that there's too much risk and not enough reward in tinkering with their routine given their arm issues, physical conditioning, mental state, and having been doing the same job the same way for over a decade.
It's difficult to see it when only looking at stats and splits, but, the real-world outcome could realistically be that Matz or Wheeler struggle to adapt, get rocked and injure themselves in a new way because they were rushed in to a new routine. If that happens, the Mets would have likely gotten better results from Hansel Robles in relief than either Matz or Wheeler, even though Matz and Wheeler are pound-for-pound better than Robles at throwing a baseball.
The obvious solution is for Matz or Wheeler to be named the team's fifth starting pitcher as the other goes to Triple-A or remains in St. Lucie doing extended spring training.
However, if Callaway and Co. feel confident that the roster can sustain itself with just seven relievers instead of the assumed eight, there is a way to carry both Wheeler and Matz together and run a sporadic six-man rotation that would give everyone rest to start the season.
First off, to make this work, Gsellman and Lugo need to be made full-time relievers, which Callaway has started hinting at doing as recently as yesterday.
It would also help to acquire an experienced, trustworthy, veteran pitcher that can get out left-handed hitters to add to the bullpen. The buzz in camp indicates that Matt Purke, who is impressing Callaway with his groundball-inducing splitter, will be the second left-handed reliever. However, he's very hit-or-miss from my perspective and, while I can live knowing he can be hidden if there are eight relievers on the roster, if there are only seven it will mean that job is more important.
So, if rumors are true and the Mets can move Juan Lagares and free up salary, I would like to see them immediately use it to sign an arm more useable than Matt Purke.
With a reliable seven-man bullpen, and because of off-days, the Mets line up to be able to use a six-man rotation through April and May that could get five men six starts, while being skipped only once, and with the sixth starting pitcher appearing only five times and being skipped twice.
Or, Alderson and Callaway can play it more traditionally, leave behind one of Wheeler or Matz, run a straight five-man rotation, and carry eight relievers. Or, they could also leave behind one of Wheeler or Matz to get work every five days, but use Gsellman or Lugo as the five-time in two months sixth starting pitcher, in between when he is used periodically as the eighth reliever.
I have a headache. Do you?
The point is, because they have a lot of depth in the rotation, and two versatile two-way pitchers, the Mets have options and don't necessarily have to rush a decision on Wheeler and Matz.
These two young men have had a bumpy road the last few seasons. However, Matz and Wheeler both still have a ton of potential, and with both younger than 28 years old, that is something the Mets should not delay or stunt in any way. Thankfully, as explained above, they don't seem like they're going to, and may even have options to make it all work out now not later...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!