There are bad ideas and then there are really bad ideas, and the New York Mets considering using Zack Wheeler out of the bullpen falls into the latter category.
Wheeler has thrown a combined 114.1 minors-and-majors innings this season with a cutoff number at 180. With the intent of limiting his innings, manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen are mulling using Wheeler out of the bullpen.
This is a bad idea on so many levels, beginning with the up-and-down nature of a reliever. The Mets will say they will only use Wheeler at the start of an inning, but that’s no guarantee. It is still a change in routine and they must scrap this idea immediately.
The Mets’ goal of winning as many games as possible in the second half and limiting Wheeler and Matt Harvey aren’t mutually compatible. The best way to achieve their goal of making a .500 run is to not change their pitching, which has been good.
Pitchers are creatures of habit and Wheeler hasn’t pitched out of the bullpen since 2010. For the past three years, he’s worked in the routine of a starter. Bouncing from starter to reliever in the middle of a season is never a good idea. The Mets should know that by now with Jenrry Mejia, who went from reliever to starter and ended up having Tommy John surgery.
A coincidence? Perhaps, but why take the chance? Considering how the Mets handled Wheeler with kid gloves, thrusting him into a new role is counter productive. It might be different if the Mets were in a pennant race, but they are not.
Figuring ten more starts they should simply cut Wheeler at six innings a game and do not deviate under any circumstances. That would give him 174.1 innings, just under the limit. This way, it keeps Wheeler in his normal routine and eliminate the different strain on his arm caused by working in relief. A starter has a set program, but a reliever does not.
San Francisco used Tim Lincecum out of the pen last year, but he’s a veteran more capable of making the adjustment than Wheeler.
Currently, the Mets are operating with a six-man rotation, which could go back to five once Jonathan Niese comes off the disabled list. The Mets have not said they’ll continue with six when Niese returns. Doing so might not be a bad idea because it would accomplish the dual purposes of monitoring Wheeler and Harvey, not to mention protecting Niese.
If the Mets go down to five, it would give Wheeler and Harvey additional turns. In that case, they should be skipped or pushed back a turn, which is preferable to shaving innings piecemeal..
The Mets haven’t said whether they will have an innings limit on Wheeler and Harvey next season, but if they do, they should map out their plan from the beginning than doing so mid-stream.