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Mets GM Sandy Alderson defends managing and use of Zack Wheeler last season

Sandy Alderson speaks to members of the media.

Sandy Alderson speaks to members of the media. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Mets general manager Sandy Alderson again defended the organization's use of Zack Wheeler last season when the righthander pitched through chronic elbow pain.

With the 24-year-old Wheeler now facing Tommy John surgery, Alderson brushed off scrutiny about the pitcher's workload. He cited the cautious approach the Mets adopted with ace Matt Harvey in his rehab from Tommy John surgery.

"Let me just ask this question: Why would we treat somebody like Harvey with the kind of caution that we did and then throw somebody else under the bus? Somebody of essentially equal value to us as an organization?" Alderson said Tuesday. "That wouldn't make any sense."

Despite Wheeler's elbow tendinitis that caused chronic pain, Alderson reiterated that the Mets never considered shutting him down. Wheeler logged a career-high 185 1/3 innings last season.

Wheeler's high pitch counts have raised red flags. He averaged 17.8 pitches per inning, the most in the National League. He also threw the second-most pitches overall in baseball for players who were age 24 by July 1.

Meanwhile, Wheeler eclipsed the 110-pitch mark 13 times, by far the most among pitchers in his age group.

That heavy usage came with a fastball that averaged 95 mph -- fifth highest in baseball.

"I understand the debate about the number of pitches per inning and this and that," Alderson said, once again referencing Harvey. "But we simply wouldn't treat two guys that different."

Alderson said that while Wheeler endured chronic pain, the symptoms were managed effectively. Still, given the demands of pitching, surgery appeared inevitable. He said it would have been unreasonable to expect the pitcher to "perform over an entire career with that level of discomfort."

"When a guy's being managed, you understand what the sort of apocalyptic result could be, OK? He blows something out," Alderson said. "But the question is what's the alternative? If it blows out, it blows out. The alternative is that you manage somebody to the point where he's not useful to you. So it's the proverbial 'you can't hurt it anymore.' "

Added Alderson: "So then, the question is, OK, was the tear inevitable or is this a function of how he was used? From my standpoint, it's inevitable given the practicality of how somebody is used in the course of a major-league season."

Not until an MRI exam was performed on Saturday did the Mets discover Wheeler had torn his ulnar collateral ligament, an injury that will require season-ending surgery. Before that, Alderson said the pitcher had twice undergone platelet rich plasma (PRP) treatments.

"His starts, his innings, and his pitches were managed accordingly," Alderson said. "There have been times when he pitched a higher number of innings, times when he may have been backed off a little bit. But he was also managed to the symptoms and we managed to the way Zack himself was responding and his approach, obviously with doctors, and trainers and a great deal of medical input as well. From my standpoint, there's no revisionism here."

Wheeler declined to answer questions about his injury. He deferred further comment until after he visits with Dr. David Altchek in New York Wednesday, a scheduled off day for the Mets.

"I just want to make sure that I know everything first, all the right facts, instead of just throwing stuff out there," said Wheeler, who is expected to require Tommy John surgery.

The follow-up exam is expected to confirm the initial diagnosis of a fully torn UCL in Wheeler's right elbow. Alderson said Wheeler might also visit Dr. James Andrews, who could perform the surgery.

"The good thing is he's still young, he's still under control, he comes back and he's a Met for quite a long time," Alderson said. "In the meantime, he's hopefully pain free, which he hasn't been."

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