All eyes are on the New York Mets starting rotation this week. Matt Harvey makes his return to action, Noah Syndergaard plans to throw even harder than last year, and Steven Matz looks to establish his own dominance. There is one storyline of particular intrigue: Who takes the fifth starter slot? This question encapsulates a fascinating conundrum as Spring Training begins.
Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Harvey, and Matz are locks. From there, it gets a little murkier. The fifth slot will fall to either Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman, or Seth Lugo, according to Terry Collins.
“It’s not only that Zack hasn’t pitched in so long, but it’s pretty fresh in my mind what I saw Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo do,” Collins told Mike Puma at The New York Post. “I think they need to be in that mix.”
That may come as unwelcome news to Wheeler, who insists on his status as a starter.
“I want to let everyone know I’m not a bullpen guy,” Wheeler told the Post last week. “I’m a starter.”
These sentiments are not lost on Collins. He understands Wheeler’s mindset. “I read the papers, and I know he says he’s a starting pitcher,” he told reporters. “But right out of the gate we do not want to get caught up in a situation where August 1 we need to shut this guy down.”
In that case, it makes sense to bring Wheeler along slowly in a bullpen role so he works back into the flow of everyday action. After all, he has not pitched in a major league game since 2014. Gsellman and Lugo are more than capable starters as well. Gsellman went 4-2 with a 2.42 earned run average and a 2.80 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2016. Lugo, meanwhile, went 5-2 with a 2.67 ERA and a 2.10 K/BB ratio.
Both Lugo and Gsellman will face a much heavier workload in 2017, should they start. In 2016, Lugo and Gsellman pitched 67 and 44 2/3 innings, respectively, and a starter’s role would likely triple that total. Fortunately, Collins remains committed to keeping his pitchers fresh during Spring Training. He realizes he may have overworked some of his pitchers last season.
The initial plan is for pitchers to abstain from throwing during fielding drills, and then go from there. With the team’s roster as deep as it has been in years, Collins has hope for a healthy Spring Training.
“It always seems at the end of spring somebody’s always dinged up,” Collins said. “Now we’ve got replacements for them.”
Collins is non-committal on Wheeler’s role but will do whatever he can to keep him fresh late into the season.
“We want him ready because we think we’re going to make a good run,” he said. “We certainly would like to have those innings late in the season when they are going to mean so much.”
Jesse Andreozzi is a staff writer at Outside Pitch Sports Network covering the New York Mets. Follow him on Twitter @Jesse_Andreozzi