Spring training is a time for practice, high hopes for the upcoming season, and storylines that are blown out of proportion. One of the biggest storylines right now is Zack Wheeler and the tenderness in his elbow.
The Mets know that Wheeler needs to be eased back into Major League action after not pitching a Major League game since September 25, 2014. Back in December, Sandy Alderson considered the idea of using Wheeler in the bullpen at first
“There’s no reason for us to say, ‘Oh he’s got to be a starter,'” Alderson told the media at the Winter Meetings. “Now, he may feel that way himself. But it may be that coming back after two years, he’s better off pitching out of the ‘pen. He might have to be careful. He might not be able to pitch back-to-back. It might have to be two innings at a time. These are all hypothetical at the moment, but I don’t see any reason to just eliminate the possibility.”
However, Wheeler has stated his desire to be a starter some time again during the season. Terry Collins also said on Monday that Wheeler would go into camp as a starter, but that he was unsure of the number of innings he can pitch this season.
When Dan Warthen told the media that Wheeler had tenderness in his elbow on Wednesday, he, like nearly all the Mets brass, downplayed it. He also added that having Wheeler pitch out of the bullpen would not be a great idea since he doesn’t recover very well and would need multiple days off from just pitching a few innings.
The approach that Warthen described to the media on Wednesday would be to hold Wheeler’s innings to the low 100s. Warthen also discussed a plan which would have Wheeler make 25 starts and still stay under around 150 innings. For that to happen, he would skip Wheeler once in a while and limit him to five innings per start for the first few months of the season.
On Thursday, John Harper of New York Daily News mentioned a source that said the organization is coming to grips with the idea that it may just make the most sense to have Wheeler start the season in extended spring training while Robert Gsellman or Seth Lugo fills the Mets fifth starter spot.
Right now many things regarding Wheeler are unclear, but they will become clearer as spring training progresses and the actual nature of his elbow is known.