Posted on March 30, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
On Thursday, the New York Mets had bad news regarding one of their starting pitchers, but that bad news also allowed them to give good news to another starter. The team announced Thursday morning that Steven Matz is being shut down for three weeks and will begin the season on the DL amidst elbow trouble that popped up earlier this week. However, the absence of Matz means that Zack Wheeler will start the season as part of New York’s rotation after sitting out the last two seasons following Tommy John surgery in March 2015.
Matz was scratched from a spring training start on Monday because of irritation in his elbow. He was able to throw a bullpen session earlier this week but has since undergone an MRI that showed no structural damage and received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his left elbow. Per doctor’s orders, Matz will refrain from throwing a ball for the next three weeks, meaning he’s likely more than a month away from being able to pitch in the big leagues.
With Matz unavailable for the foreseeable future, the Mets now have an extra opening in their rotation. The club recently announced that Robert Gsellman had beat out Wheeler, Seth Lugo, and others for the fifth spot in the rotation. However, the injury to Matz has allowed the Mets to add Wheeler to the rotation, at least for now.
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Wheeler’s status for the start of the season has been one of the biggest questions facing the Mets this spring. If he didn’t earn a spot in the rotation, there would have been some debate about keeping him behind in extended spring training or trying to move him to the bullpen. But with Matz being hurt and Wheeler throwing five scoreless innings against the Miami Marlins in a Grapefruit League game earlier this week, the Mets are now comfortable plugging Wheeler into the rotation at the start of the season.
“It’s been a long trek for him,” GM Sandy Alderson said about Wheeler’s two-year comeback from Tommy John. “We felt that if he was kind of on an uptick physically, that emotionally and mentally it would be a real positive for him to be able to begin the season, and not just be relegated to (extended spring camp in) Port St. Lucie again. So he’s feeling good and we feel good about it.”
Wheeler and Gsellman will now form the back end of a rotation that also features Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, and Matt Harvey, who are slated to be on the mound next week when the Mets open the season with three games against the Atlanta Braves.
Of course, there’s no certainty that Wheeler will remain in the starting rotation all season. It’s possible that he or Gsellman could be moved out when Matz eventually returns. The Mets will also have Wheeler on an innings count after not pitching for two full seasons, although the exact number of innings Wheeler will be limited to this year is “flexible,” according to Alderson.
“Assuming things go well, (Wheeler) will pitch until he reaches a limit,” Alderson said. “We have a target, but targets move, so I think it will depend a lot on how he’s performing and how he’s feeling, try to build in a little bit of flexibility. I don’t think he’s going to pitch 200 innings.”
It’s possible that the Mets could move to Wheeler to the bullpen at some point, and while Wheeler says he’d prefer not to, he understands it may be necessary to curb his innings. But for now, Wheeler will be part of what could be the best rotation in baseball. It’s a shame that it took Matz’s injury to make it happen, but for Wheeler, who’s still just 26, it’s a huge step in the right direction.