August 23, 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets pitcher Collin McHugh (36) talks to teammate Justin Turner (2) as they sit in the dugout during the seventh inning after McHugh threw seven shutout innings in his major league debut against the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Collin McHugh Deserves First Chance Over Zack Wheeler If Mets Come Calling

Monday’s scheduled game between the Las Vegas 51′s and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox was postponed due to – cold!  That’s right – so much for April showers bringing May flowers.  The two teams will play a doubleheader Tuesday to complete their four game series.  In splitting the first two games, the 51′s defeated Colorado in Saturday’s opening game, while the Sky Sox won Sunday’s contest.

Collin McHugh, 25, pitched Sunday.  Prior to taking the hill, he hadn’t allowed an earned run since his first start of the season.  He then pitched scoreless baseball over his next two starts.  Through eighteen innings, that translated to a 0.50 earned run average.  Over that time, he limited opposing batters to fifteen hits, issued four walks, and fanned fifteen.  McHugh’s fourth start of the season against the Sky Sox was by far his worst outing.  In 5.1 innings of work on Sunday, he walked no one while striking out three, but allowed four earned runs and surrendered an absurd thirteen hits.  Relatively speaking, his ERA ballooned to a 1.93 mark.  This was the second straight game in which McHugh allowed more hits than innings pitched.  In fact,  he has now allowed twenty hits in his last eleven innings pitched.  His last such spike came in 2011 while pitching for St. Lucie.  In fairness to McHugh, I always say twice is a coincidence, but three times is a trend.  I’m sure we’ll find his next start or two more telling.

Although he only received his first taste of the major leagues last season by making four starts and four relief appearances, McHugh will turn 26 years old this June – he isn’t exactly a kid.  Despite a 7.59 ERA last season during his short stay in Flushing, there is some polish to him.  This past Sunday’s game was only his seventeenth overall start at the AAA level.  Between 2011 and 2012, he totaled thirty appearances at Binghamton.  Otherwise, Collin McHugh has seventy-eight class-A games worth of experience.  To date, he has 549 minor league innings pitched, which carries a ton of weight with me.  Far too often I feel pitchers get rushed through the system based on (real, yet raw) ability and strict statistical adherence, but lack a basic understanding of their craft and in-game management.  On August 23, 2012, Citi Field witnessed some of McHugh’s polish first hand.  His major league debut came against the Colorado Rockies, and he pitched seven solid innings, allowed no runs, and surrendered just four hits.  He issued one walk, and struck out nine.  He faced twenty-three batters, and threw exactly 100 pitches, of which sixty-three went for strikes.  Unfortunately, he took a no-decision as the Mets ultimately dropped a 1-0 game with Bobby  Parnell on the mound.

After his 2011 participation at St. Lucie, McHugh has demonstrated effective consistency since touching down in Binghamton and pitching through AAA.  McHugh’s second trip to Flushing may not be too far off, as there is a dilemma brewing on the big club.  Shaun Marcum‘s lingering status, Jeremy Hefner‘s recent mound performance, and Aaron Laffey getting DFA’d are conspiring to possibly hasten Sandy Alderson’s decision to call up starting pitchers.  In the event the Mets do, I believe Collin McHugh deserves to receive the first call.

Sandy Alderson’s decision to keep Zack Wheeler in the minors, so as to squeeze another year of service from him is now an inconsequential matter.  Moving forward, decisions regarding Zack Wheeler will be based primarily on his performance.  Unfortunately for Terry Collins, Wheeler’s first four starts for Las Vegas indicate he is not yet ready for a promotion.  Highlighting his problems are control issues.  That has been a consistent criticism.  Wheeler walked six batters in his last outing.  He currently owns a 4.91 earned run average, and an unsightly 1.745 WHiP.  In 18.1 innings, he has allowed twenty hits and walked twelve.  On a more positive note, he has twenty-one strikeouts.  His pitching numbers through four starts are not being skewed by one lousy start.  He has struggled to varying degrees in three of four appearances.  It should be noted, however, that Wheeler was dealing with a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand during his first two starts.  That issue likely contributed to his poor performance.

Wheeler will turn twenty-three years old at the end of May.  It has already been speculated the club will wait until June or so to promote him.  A few more outings like he’s had can change his ultimate delivery date.  At the moment, he only has ten AAA starts under his belt.  He really made a nice name for himself in AA.  Wheeler has 341 minor league innings pitched, which these days is a very acceptable amount.

I am not trying to detract from Zack Wheeler’s high regard.  I stand with my fellow fans with hopes that we’ll eventually have a high-end pitcher on our hands.  I simply ask, what’s the rush?  As it pertains to the 2013 regular season, I feel there should be a certain portion of the season left open for experimentation and exploration since the team is still a work in progress.  So for right now, I feel Collin McHugh should get the next plane ticket to LaGuardia Airport when Flushing calls, which could come sooner rather than later.

 

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