Zack Wheeler has not pitched for the New York Mets since 2014. He went 11-11 that year with a 3.54 earned run average in 185 1/3 innings pitched. The 26-year-old spent two seasons rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but he is finally ready to return to action.
As for the speculation that Wheeler might start the 2017 season in the bullpen? He has no interest in that role.
“I know I belong in the starting rotation, there’s no question about that,” Wheeler told Kevin Kernan at The New York Post. “I want to be a starter.”
Wheeler, who arrived in Port St. Lucie last week, realizes the limitations of a bullpen role and the change in mindset required for the job. He insists he is above that, claiming the role is for when “you are doing bad.”
“You are going to get stuck there,” Wheeler says of the bullpen. “That’s why I’m trying to let everybody know that I’m not a bullpen guy, I’m a starter.”
Wheeler may have little choice in the matter. It is rare for a starter, who has not hit the rubber in over two years, to re-assume a starter’s workload. Manager Terry Collins knows the toll that overworking a pitcher takes on that pitcher’s health and stamina. He saw it last year with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard.
General Manger Sandy Alderson wisely discussed an innings limit for Wheeler, which the young righty seemed to reluctantly accept.
“I hate innings limits,” he told Kernan. “But I guess that is part of the game these days. You’ve got to do what they say.”
Addison Reed, another Mets reliever, seems more accepting of any role asked of him. He made 80 appearances last season as the eighth-inning bridge reliever to closer Jeurys Familia, striking out 91 batters and surrendering 13 walks. Reed will likely assume the closer role to start 2017 but says he is comfortable pitching middle relief as well.
“I’m going to try and roll off of what I did last year,” he stated. “I don’t see this role as anything different.”
Wheeler should take a page from Reed’s playbook and go with the flow for the first few weeks of the 2017 season. Fortunately, the Mets starting rotation is healthier than it has been in nearly three years, so there is plenty of reason for optimism. Wheeler shares that sentiment, as he told SNY he wants to “destroy teams” this year.
Should that happen, does it really matter what inning Wheeler pitches?
Jesse Andreozzi is a staff writer at Outside Pitch Sports Network covering the New York Mets. Follow him in Twitter @Jesse_Andreozzi