The issues of whether Zack Wheeler is a starter or reliever, or his innings limitations, are moot if the Mets can’t get him on the mound. Here we are, less than a week into spring training, and the Mets’ first red flag is already flapping with news Wheeler – who hasn’t pitched in two years while recovering from Tommy John surgery – has tenderness in his elbow.
The immediate plan is for him to play catch Thursday, and if there’s no pain then throw in the bullpen Friday.
It’s all about caution for Wheeler, who likely will open the season on the disabled list because let’s face it, there’s no reason to rush him, not with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman around to pick up the slack. When Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz were injured last season, Lugo and Gsellman – and don’t forget, Bartolo Colon – kept the rotation afloat.
Maybe the tenderness is because Wheeler hasn’t really thrown since last August, or perhaps it was scar tissue, but pitching coach Dan Warthen said they won’t rush him. There’s no reason.
“We’re not going to push it because we want to see this kid healthy and once we get healthy, we want him to stay healthy, so we’ll have kid gloves with him,” Warthen told reporters in Port St. Lucie.
Warthen said it would be great if Wheeler made 25 starts, and even projected how many innings he’d throw if that happened, He also said it might be difficult for Wheeler to work out of the bullpen, something he’s never down before. But none of that matters if he can’t get to the mound.
Lugo figures to be the fifth starter and Gsellman could make the final 25-man roster as a long reliever. As for Wheeler, just getting him healthy is imperative. If they can do that, perhaps we’ll see Wheeler sometime in June.
We won’t know what kind of setback this will be, but it underscores the potential depth the Mets have in their rotation. There has been sentiment the Mets could trade Lugo or Gsellman, but Wheeler’s elbow reminds us there’s no reason to go there now because of the fragility of the rotation.