The first thing I thought of after hearing the Mets were considering using Zack Wheeler out of the bullpen was “don’t let this turn out to be another Jenrry Mejia.”
You’ll recall the Mets bounced Mejia from the rotation to the bullpen, without leaving him long enough to grasp either role. Consequently, Mejia’s trade value deteriorated and he eventually injured his arm. He appeared to get it together as a closer until he screwed up his career by violating MLB’s PED policy.
WHEELER: A new role? (Getty)
Wheeler in the pen is an intriguing idea, but it has to be done for the right reasons. If it is because they are apparently deep with young starters and woefully thin in the pen, made more so with the anticipated suspension of closer Jeurys Familia, then I can see that logic. If it is because Wheeler only has two really good pitches, then that’s a justifiable reason, also.
However, if the reasoning is what manager Terry Collins said at the Winter Meetings, which is to shave innings off Wheeler’s total before he moves into the rotation later in the year, then that’s not good enough. It’s not good at all.
Wheeler said all the right things today at Citi Field during a coat drive.
“I’ve started my whole life, and obviously, I’d like to do that,” Wheeler told reporters. “But they’re looking out for me, innings-wise and stuff like that. I’ve been out for two years, so … whatever’s best for my health is what’s fine with me and the plan going forward.”
The Mets wouldn’t be looking after Wheeler if they bounced him around. If they are serious about the bullpen, they have to go all in. That means use him there in spring training and stay with it the entire season.
GM Sandy Alderson said this is currently in the bounce-it-off-the-wall phase.
“There’s no reason for us to say, `Well, he’s got to be a starter,’ ” Alderson told reporters. “Now, he may feel that way himself. But, it may be that coming back after two years you have to be careful. You might not be able to pitch him back-to-back [days]. It might have to be two innings at a time. But, I don’t see any reason to just eliminate that possibility.”
Wheeler hasn’t pitched in two seasons, so the Mets don’t know what to make of him physically. As a starter, he’ll have a more consistent schedule and workload, so that’s a plus.
There are too many variables that tax a pitcher’s arm coming out of the pen, especially if that’s a new role for him. That makes it risky.
Pitchers have made the transition from starter to reliever and been successful. I’m not saying the Mets would be making a mistake. The mistake would come if they waffled and changed course, especially without knowing his condition.