With injuries to Seth Lugo and Steven Matz, the Mets were forced to plug Zack Wheeler into the starting rotation coming out of spring training. Then once Noah Syndergaard went down with a torn lat, Wheeler’s spot was cemented. However, a dilemma is quickly approaching: His innings limit.
Before the season started, Sandy Alderson stated that Wheeler’s innings limit coming back from Tommy John surgery would be 125 innings. Wheeler, who has thrown 43.1 innings in eight starts this season, is about one third of the way there and it’s still May. He is on pace to hit that innings limit around the end of July.
Speaking to reporters this past weekend, manager Terry Collins addressed this issue. “We can’t worry about July. Right now he’s a key part of this, so we’re going to send him out there and ride him. When the time comes when we think he needs to be stopped, that’ll be a decision a lot of people will be involved in. But right now he’s one of the horses we’ve gotta ride to get us on the right track.”
With three of the Mets starters injured and the team as a whole struggling, Wheeler has been one of the bright spots. With Lugo and Matz working their way back from injuries, however, it might be almost time for him to give up his rotation spot and appear out of the bullpen. The key is to avoid a Stephen Strasburg situation in which he is unavailable to pitch in the playoffs.
Wheeler has pitched very well of late, allowing only five earned runs in his last four starts. During those 21.2 innings he’s posted a 2.08 ERA while striking out 19 and walking 14. He is still a little wild and despite high pitch counts, he has been effective. Effective enough to possibly make the Mets consider extending his innings limit to a degree – But they must be responsible.
The other reason to consider extending his innings limit is his velocity. He hit 98 mph with his fastball a few times during his last start and has averaged over 94 mph with the pitch this season. His velocity does not decrease as his pitch count increases, however, which is a great sign.
The Mets are going to have an interesting situation on their hands as he creeps towards that magic number 125. The better he pitches, the harder it will be to shut him down. The most likely outcome is when the rest of the rotation (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman) is healthy and producing, he will see time in the bullpen to curtail his innings count. His health is important, but so is winning ballgames.
Overall in 2017, Wheeler is 3-2 with a 3.74 ERA, 4.21 FIP, and 1.292 WHIP. In 43.1 innings he has struck out 40 (8.3 SO/9) and walked 20 (4.2 BB/9).