Mets: Zack Wheeler continues strong spring, but he should still end up in the bullpen
By JT. Teran
Wheeler wants to be a starting pitcher, but the Mets will need him more in the ‘pen.
Zack Wheeler has gone out and pitched pretty well early in spring for the Mets. He’s only thrown five innings, but in his latest start, he looked as sharp as we’ve seen in a while.
Wheeler and Mets faced the Yankees on Wednesday, and the 27-year-old righty shut them out for three innings. Wheeler allowed only four hits – all singles – and struck out another four batters without walking a single hitter.
In those five innings, Wheeler has only allowed one run and has yet to walk anyone, while collecting eight punch outs. While this is definitely an encouraging sign for everyone that wants him in the rotation, Wheeler’s potential is better suited for the pen.
Usually when you suggest a starter get moved to the bullpen, it’s because they’ve struggled, but with Wheeler, it’s quite the opposite.
One factor to consider is the fact that Zack still throws really hard. He has consistently been able to reach 96 m.p.h. on the gun, and did so again on Wednesday, even when stretched out over a few innings. I can’t help but think he could throw even harder if he was limited to one inning an outing out of the bullpen.
Wheeler has also shown an ability to strike out guys at a high rate early on. Again, small size alert but registering eight K’s in five innings is a great sign. The Mets could use a guy like that in a tight spot. Wheeler’s offspeed stuff has also looked really sharp, and that’s been a big contributor to a nice K rate.
Wheeler has also not been able to stay healthy for a long time, and there’s no guarantee 2018 is the year that changes. This offseason, he decided to take some injections that will hopefully help strengthen his bones. Nevertheless, by keeping him in the ‘pen, the Mets could reduce his innings, maximize his value, and ease him back into pitching a full, healthy year.
The Mets rotation also might not have a spot for him, any way. Right now, Noah Syndergaard is being Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom is likely to just miss Opening Day but could pitch in game 2 of the first series of the year, and keep being his dominant self. Jason Vargas has gotten hit around a little, but he’s more than likely been guaranteed a spot in the rotation with his deal. Matt Harvey has also looked more serviceable than we were thinking, and Seth Lugo is also making a strong bid for a rotation spot.
Odds are all these guys may not be able to stay as healthy as we hope, so keeping Wheeler around in the bullpen until a need arises would be the best overall solution.
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We know Wheeler doesn’t want to be a reliever. He’s been preparing as a starter and manager Mickey Callaway believes that will be his spot. But ultimately, when it’s all said and done, someone’s going to end up in the bullpen. A guy with his arm can help the Mets more by coming in the middle of a game and wiping the floor clean with the few batters he may face.