PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Since late last season, with the writing already scrawled across the wall, conflict has been Dillon Gee's constant companion.
At the start of spring training, the Mets righthander found himself the odd man out of a starting rotation loaded with talented arms. He embraced moving into the bullpen although he longed to start, even if it meant the possibility of doing it for another team.
That ever-present conflict was at his side once again Tuesday morning, even after Zack Wheeler's season-ending elbow injury created a clear path for Gee to reclaim a starting spot.
"This is not how I wanted to be in the rotation," said Gee, who is 40-34 with a 3.91 ERA in five seasons. "We all feel extremely bad for him."
Recently, those projected as starters have begun going deeper into games, leaving fewer innings for others. Gee picked up the scraps, pitching in relief so he could acclimate to his new role. He did so with no complaints.
"I don't know, how else do you do it?" said Gee, less than a year removed from the honor of starting on Opening Day. "I'm not going to cry like a baby."
Now, the challenge is different. He must use what's left of spring training to build up his pitch count so he'll be ready to start. He is up to 40 pitches but must strengthen his arm so it can withstand the 100-pitch mark by Opening Day.
In some ways, Gee's sudden shift comes as no surprise. The reality of modern-day baseball dictates that sooner or later, the Mets would need more than five starting pitchers. In 2014, big-league teams averaged 10.3.
It wouldn't take long for the Mets to realize they would be tapping into their depth. In two days, they learned two pitchers would need Tommy John surgery. Wheeler's diagnosis was preceded by the same grim news for lefty reliever Josh Edgin, who also will be lost for the season recovering from elbow surgery.
In the last calendar year, the Mets, Braves and A's failed to break camp without at least two Tommy John casualties. Still, Gee was caught off guard. "I didn't see this happening," he said. "Not to this magnitude."
It's clear now that the Mets braced for the possibility. Wheeler complained of elbow pain off and on for most of last season. Doctors labeled his condition tendinitis, though lingering pain in the winter sent up red flags.
It's part of the reason Gee remained with the Mets. Of all the arms the Mets were willing to trade this winter, he drew the most interest. The Mets didn't part with him and his market dried up. They were content to keep him as insurance. Now, they will redeem their policy and pencil Gee into the rotation.
"Dillon has done it," general manager Sandy Alderson said, one day after manager Terry Collins threw his support behind Gee. "Dillon has performed at a high level for us in the past and I think Terry's indication was strong."
Gee, 28, will get his wish with the only organization he's ever known, though it comes with a tinge of conflict. Without a hint of hesitation, Gee said he'd rather pitch in the bullpen than rejoin the rotation because of an injury.
Said Gee: "I hate this is the way I'm back in it."
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