By Mike Addvensky
The New York Mets will look to continue their hot start when they go for the sweep of the Miami Marlins on Wednesday night. Zack Wheeler will be on the hill for the Mets for the first time this season, and he’ll be trying to prove that he deserves to be in the starting rotation.
After a mediocre spring training, Wheeler was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas to begin the season. The Mets named Seth Lugo the fifth starter in their rotation, but Lugo has not actually made a start yet this season. Due to a rainout last week against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Mets have not needed a fifth starter until this series against the Marlins. With Lugo pitching so well out of the bullpen, Wheeler was recalled from Triple-A to pitch on Wednesday.
Wheeler is certainly not guaranteed a spot in the rotation going forward. He’s going to have to be a lot more consistent than he was last season in order for the Mets to feel comfortable throwing him out there every fifth day. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in March of 2015, Wheeler ended up being sidelined for two seasons due to his recovery taking longer than expected. He finally returned last year and went 3-7 with an ERA of 5.21 in 17 starts.
Before he had Tommy John surgery, Wheeler was beginning to look like the top-of-the-rotation guy the Mets thought he would turn out to be when they acquired him from the San Francisco Giants back in 2011. Drafted sixth overall by the Giants in the first round of the 2009 MLB Draft, Wheeler was projected to be an ace. The high velocity of his fastball was a big reason for these high expectations. Wheeler was called up by the Mets in June of 2013 and pitched well right away. He built off of his early success and had a solid first full season in 2014. That year, Wheeler went 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA in 32 starts.
As Wheeler gets set to make his first start of the 2018 season on Wednesday night, it is worth noting that the best start of his career came at Marlins Park. On June 19, 2014, he threw a complete-game shutout against the Marlins. In that game, Wheeler allowed just three hits and one walk while recording eight strikeouts. That night, he displayed how good of a pitcher he has the potential to be. The problem is that we have not seen that version of Wheeler since he had the surgery.
Wheeler has been working on fixing his delivery by trying to shorten his motion. This has been an issue for him throughout his career. In his first start for the Las Vegas 51s in Triple-A on Friday, Wheeler went five innings, allowing just one run on three hits and a walk while recording six strikeouts.
It will be interesting to see how Mets general manager Sandy Alderson and manager Mickey Callaway handle Wheeler going forward. If he pitches well against the Marlins, he will most likely stay in the rotation and start against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night. With the way Lugo and Robert Gsellman have been pitching out of the bullpen, Callaway does not want to have to insert one of them into the starting rotation. This is a perfect opportunity for Wheeler to prove himself. He has the chance to show everyone that he can still be a decent starting pitcher at the Major League level.
With left-hander Jason Vargas still on the disabled list due to the surgery that he had to remove the hamate bone from his right hand, Wheeler is now the Mets fifth starter for the time being. For the first time ever, we are going to see a full turn through the rotation with the “Fab Five” of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Wheeler, Steven Matz and Matt Harvey. It is unclear how many turns through the rotation these five will get to take together, but it will be nice to see them all healthy at the same time.
Once Vargas comes back, someone will presumably be sent down to Triple-A or be asked to move to the bullpen. As of right now, Wheeler will probably be that guy. That is, unless he can pitch well enough to convince Callaway that he has the stuff to remain in the rotation.