While most are expecting Zack Wheeler to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the Mets rotation to start the season, the righty hasn’t given up on his desire to fill in that fifth spot when Opening Day comes around.
Wheeler pitched 2 1/3 innings against the Washington Nationals on Thursday. He gave up two runs on three hits over that span after throwing 50 pitches in what’s been only his second start this spring. He also walked one and struck out one in the time he was out there.
While he wasn’t dominating by any stretch, the real story comes from the fact that Wheeler’s feeling really good and optimistic after these two stints, and only sees himself getting better going forward.
"“I feel a little rusty but it will come around,” Wheeler told reporters after his start. “The pitches are coming out good. I threw my slider a little more today. My changeup is what Harper hit out and that’s what someone hit out last time, so obviously I need to work on that and fine tune it. But this is the time to throw it and try to work on it.”"
Wheeler’s velocity has also started to come back apparently too. During this outing, his fastball was mostly sitting around 94-95mph and even hit 97mph at a point.
He’s definitely settling in as camp goes by too. He told reporters that during his first start against Atlanta, he was a nervous wreck.
"“Last time I was like getting dizzy and stuff, I was nervous. I felt like I had never pitched in a big league game before, but today I was a little more calm, I sort of knew these hitters and I think that helped a little bit. I think moving forward, it will get easier every time out.”"
And that’s the hope for the Mets staff as well. Going into Spring Training, we knew Alderson and co.’s preference was to start Wheeler out in the bullpen and ease him into the action, but if he performance improves, that may have to be re-evaluated.
Wheeler prefers to start, of course, but as he told reporters today, he just wants “to be healthy and pitch,” and he trusts the Mets brass to do the right thing going forward in respects to his health and future.
He’ll be limited to around 125 innings this season, and Wheeler acknowledges they’ve discussed a couple of different ways those limits can be hit, so they’re definitely planning ahead.
If Wheeler continues to feel good, and his accuracy improves more quickly than expected, don’t be surprised to see a real race for the fifth spot in the rotation start to heat up. Most of us have already given the job to Robert Gsellman, but if Wheeler makes a run for it, his stuff can match up with almost anyone on this staff. In the end, a healthy, sharp Wheeler battling for a rotation spot is great problem to have.