Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz are a lock to be in the team's starting rotation when it begins their 2017 season in exactly two weeks...
Matt Harvey should be a lock, but has struggled this spring after last year's season-ending surgery to correct Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. I expect he'll make the Opening Day roster, though I do think there's a small chance he stays back in St. Lucie where he'd begin the season in extended spring training and on the disabled list.
Meanwhile, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Zack Wheeler have all pitched well enough to be considered for the rotation's final spot.
"It's a great problem to have," Terry Collins said Sunday. "We came into this camp knowing we had depth in the rotation. ... They have stepped up and showed us we weren't wrong."
Wheeler must be available down the stretch
Wheeler has allowed three runs and struck out three batters in 4.1 innings this spring.
"You've got to be careful what you're seeing in March, but certainly Zack got our attention the other day," manager Collins said Sunday. "I can't wait to have him get back out there again."
Zack Wheeler wams up during a spring training game in St. Lucie (Credit: Barr-USA Today Sports)
Wheeler had Tommy John surgery in early 2015 and suffered multiple setbacks during his rehab last summer. Nevertheless, following both of his Grapefruit League starts this spring, he told reporters that he feels great and is ready to begin the season.
Unfortunately, he will not be allowed to exceed 125 innings pitched this season because he hasn't thrown in a big-league game in two years, Sandy Alderson said last week.
The Mets believe they'll be competing for a playoff spot this season. I'm sure they'd love to have Wheeler contributing down the stretch (and in the postseason). So, because of the innings limit, my hunch is they'll slow-play his debut and keep him in extended spring training through April and May. Wheeler is not going to be happy. However, it will allow the Mets to be extra cautious with his return, as well as conserve innings and keep him in position to pitch for them in September and October.
Gsellman is a mid-rotation starter... on another team
Based on his performance this spring, and what he did last year, Gsellman has to be the fifth starter during the first month or two of 2017.
He had a 2.42 ERA (2.63 FIP) and 1.27 WHIP, while striking out 42 batters in 44.2 innings during seven starts and one relief appearance last season. So far this spring, he has thrown 12 innings in four Grapefruit League games, has a 2.25 ERA and struck out seven batters.
Mar 13, 2017; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Robert Gsellman (65) throws during a spring training game against the Miami Marlins at First Data Field. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
"He's got no fear, he's not afraid of anything in any situation," Collins said Sunday, praising Gsellman's most recent outing. "He knows what he can do and goes out and does it. Knows he can throw strikes, knows he's got a weapon that is hard to hit and he uses it."
I's pretty clear that Gsellman would be a mid-rotation starting pitcher if he was not on the Mets, which is why I don't think there's much debate about what his role will be for the Mets in 2017.
"The talent level is so high you have to compete, it makes you better," Gsellman said after his last appearance. "I think last year I was in the second (round of) cuts and this year I am competing to make the team. It's a lot of fun."
That's sweet. It's good to be humble. But, the fact is, the sink and velocity he gets off his two-seam fastball - not to mention how effective he is with his breaking ball and change up - qualify him as a big-league pitcher. End of story. There's nothing he has to prove in Triple-A, and -- since he doesn't profile as a relief pitcher -- he's a no-brainer to make rotation.
"They're all on track," Collins said. "They're getting more work. The more pitches they throw, the more confidence they have, and trust in their stuff a little bit more."
Lugo will play a big role in this team's success
The big talk this past winter- not just from the Mets, but all around baseball - was how every team now needs a guy in the bullpen that can be a short-order, situational reliever, as well as someone that can go multiple innings and bridge the gap between the bullpen and starting pitchers that last just five or six innings per start.
Lugo is capable of being that guy for the Mets.
The days that Syndergaard or deGrom go deep, Lugo can rest or pitch in short relief. Or, on days when Matz and Harvey leave their start early, Lugo can pitch two or three innings and get everything in order before handing the ball off to Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia. It's a hugely important job, just ask the entire American League about Indians reliever Andrew Miller.
Feb 24, 2017; Lugo (67) throws a pitch at JetBlue Park. Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
It's also worth noting that, while Lugo may have struggled in his last spring appearance for the Mets, he's been dominant pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
In his most recent outing (this past weekend), Lugo retired the first 11 batters he faced. He eventually gave up just one hit in five innings, while striking out three batters and walking no one against Venezuela, whose lineup featured Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez and Victor Martinez, among other notable big-league players.
The spin on his curve ball is so hard and right that the opposition often makes weak contact against him, assuming they make contact at all. The thing is, as he sees the same batters more and more each game, he's forced to use the rest of his arsenal, which is not nearly as effective.
I realize the Mets were 7-1 in games started by Lugo last season, during which he had a 2.68 ERA and struck out 5.6 batters per nine innings. However, in nine relief appearances, he also had a 2.65 ERA and struck out 8.5 per nine innings.
In other words, because he is so uniquely qualified to become this team's version of Miller, which is the type of player this staff is desperately in need of, I expect he'll begin this year in the bullpen, while making the occasional spot start when needed.
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. He recently left his position as Executive Editor and Dir. of Digital Content for SNY.TV to help sports brands build their own digital content businesses...