Zack Wheeler sent down to minor leagues by Mets

Zach Wheeler sits in the dugout after pitching

Zach Wheeler sits in the dugout after pitching during the second inning of a game against the Washington Nationals in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (Feb. 23, 2013) (Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The meeting seemed inevitable.

No matter how hard he threw, no matter how comfortably he blended in, no matter how much he looked the part of a major-league pitcher, the Mets had too many reasons to take their time with Zack Wheeler.

So Sunday morning, the 22-year-old righthander was summoned into an office and told to bide his time.

As expected, Wheeler was among 10 players cut by the Mets on Sunday, ending his bid to make the big-league team out of camp.

"You're sitting in the same seat that Matt Harvey did last year," manager Terry Collins said, recalling what he told Wheeler at a meeting that included general manager Sandy Alderson and pitching coach Dan Warthen.

Harvey began last season as a top pitching prospect on the brink of breaking through to the big leagues. He ended it with a spot in the Mets' starting rotation. The Mets envision a similar trajectory for Wheeler as long as he lives up to his own end of the bargain with Triple-A Las Vegas.

"I'm not happy," Wheeler said. "But like I said, the injury set me back just a little bit."

Some scouts believe Wheeler is major league-ready right now. But the Mets likely will delay his free agency for one year by simply waiting a few months before promoting him. With so much to gain for the team, Wheeler's chances of breaking camp with the Mets appeared slim from the start.

"Now I've got another goal," he said. "It's to be up here as soon as possible."

Wheeler arrived here hoping to create a difficult situation by impressing all throughout camp. But an oblique injury made his demotion an easy decision.

In his only Grapefruit League start, he tossed two scoreless innings, which he hoped to improve upon in his next outing. But just hours before he was to pitch Feb. 27, the Mets scratched him when he complained of soreness in his oblique, a product of swings he took in the cage during batting practice.

Wheeler didn't face live batters again until Sunday, when he threw batting practice against minor-leaguers on a back field at the Mets' complex. He threw roughly 25 pitches and his fastball topped out at 95 mph -- an encouraging sign.

"The injury set him back a little bit, but we didn't want to run him out there just to pitch an inning or so in a major-league game," said Alderson, who believes Wheeler will be ready to start the season on time with Las Vegas. "Just coming back from that, we thought it was better he pitch in a less formal setting. He needs to get ready to pitch and innings start to get scarce."

Wheeler believes that his stint in camp will ease the transition if he's called up later in the season.

"You know everybody around the locker room and stuff like that," Wheeler said. "It definitely helps so [when] you get up there, you sort of aren't a deer in the headlights."

Nevertheless, he expressed his disappointment after making only one exhibition appearance.

"I know he's disappointed. He has every right to be," Collins said. "But he's going to get his chance. It's like Matt Harvey. When he gets here, he'll never look back."

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