Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and Zack Wheeler will compete in Spring Training to determine who will be the team's fifth starting pitcher, Terry Collins told reporters Monday.
Gsellman and Lugo were a combined 8-3 with a 2.65 ERA in 15 starts last season filling in for Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz.
Wheeler hasn't pitched in the majors since having Tommy John surgery in 2014.
"We aren't sure how many innings he's going to be able to pitch," Collins said of Wheeler, who was 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA in 2014. "So, do you burn those innings early, or do you burn those innings late? And that is certainly a discussion we will have as we go through Spring Training."
Wheeler (45) does fielding drills during spring training at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
Collins and Sandy Alderson have been consistent this winter saying Wheeler could pitch in both the rotation and bullpen in an effort to conserve innings while nursing him back to regular action.
Earlier this week at Tradition Field, Wheeler told reporters he is 100 percent healthy, despite experiencing multiple setbacks last summer.
"We do not want to get caught up in a situation where Aug. 1 we need to shut this guy down," Collins said. "We want him ready because we think we're going to make a good run, and we certainly would like to have those innings late in the season when they are going to mean so much."
It's early, but my hunch is that Gsellman and Lugo will both be on the big-league roster, and Wheeler will hang behind in extended spring training, when the team breaks north. Unlike previous seasons, the Mets do not have many off days during the first two weeks of the season. In fact, they actually play 12 straight days during the first two weeks of April, so they're going to need five fresh starting pitchers right out of the gate.
The only way I see Wheeler in the rotation to start the season is if he blows everyone away in Spring Training, not just in terms of his performance, but also with his health and stability. Otherwise, if there is any indication that he's not 100 percent, I bet they leave him behind in favor of Gsellman and Lugo, who earned the right to break camp given what they did for the Mets in 2016.
Sep 14, 2016; Gsellman (65) throws during the second inning at Nationals Park. Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
The Mets will not need their fifth starter until the sixth day of the season, on April 8, so -- theoretically -- Lugo and Gsellman can both pitch from the bullpen to start the season. In either case, once a call must be made, I believe Alderson and Collins will want Gsellman in the rotation and Lugo in the bullpen. Then, later in the spring, when Harvey, deGrom, Matz or Noah Syndergaard start needing rest, perhaps Lugo fills in, or maybe Wheeler is added.
The point is, this is not the last time I'll be writing about this situation. It's going to be a point of focus all season, especially if everyone is healthy and pitching well...