PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - Even with an elbow that has since been revealed to be prone to painful flare-ups, the Mets pushed Zack Wheeler last season more than perhaps any other young pitcher in baseball.
But with Wheeler sidelined with his latest bout of elbow soreness, and the organization still waiting for the results of an MRI exam, Mets officials on Sunday expressed no regrets about the prized righthander's workload.
"We were comfortable with what we were doing and he was comfortable with what he was doing," general manager Sandy Alderson said in a phone interview. "And it worked out certainly in the second half of last season given the way he performed."
At at time when velocity has become associated with other supposed risk factors for elbow injuries, Wheeler's fastball ranked fifth-fastest in baseball at 95 mph.
Yet, even with high-octane stuff and elbow pain that required anti-inflammatories to manage, the Mets didn't hesitate to pile on the work.
Among pitchers 24 years old or younger last season, Wheeler led them all by far with 13 appearances in which he threw 110 pitches or more, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
"A lot of times we were trying to get him through the fifth inning, trying to get him deeper in the game," said pitching coach Dan Warthen, who expressed no regrets about how the pitcher was managed.
Manager Terry Collins said he never considered shutting down Wheeler to give him an in-season hiatus, as the Mets essentially had done with rotation mates Jonathon Niese and Jacob deGrom.
Alderson was less declarative in his answer.
"I can't go back and reconstruct everything that we did last year," he said. "We consider all possibilities when we try to manage someone through an injury or some sort of medical condition."
In his first full big-league season, Wheeler went 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA in 32 starts while racking up a career-high 1851/3 innings. It was a jump from 1682/3 innings the previous season, including 100 innings in the majors. The increase stayed in line with conventional thinking.
But it came even as the Mets were forced to make adjustments as a concession to Wheeler's balky elbow.
Earlier this week, Wheeler denied missing bullpen sessions last season because of the elbow. However, both Collins and Warthen said they recalled one or two instances when the righthander didn't feel well enough for throwing sessions between outings.
Collins acknowledged at least one instance when he pulled Wheeler early from a start because of the elbow soreness. And in the offseason, the Mets were concerned enough to send him for a pair of MRI exams that revealed no structural damage.
"I think Zack has had this since he started, since he signed," Warthen said. "He's had trouble in between starts."
Of Wheeler's 32 starts, 14 came with at least one day's extra rest, though both Warthen and Wheeler insisted that the additional time had nothing to do with the elbow.
The Mets remain hopeful that Wheeler's latest MRI is clean, even though it was sent to doctors in New York as part of what Alderson called standard protocol.
There is concern by some within the organization, including Collins, that Wheeler's health could be an issue moving forward. But in the short term, the Mets won't panic.
The Mets don't expect Wheeler to miss more than one start after he was scratched from Saturday's scheduled outing. But Collins said he will push Wheeler back from his next scheduled start on Thursday, when Dillon Gee will take his place.
Said Collins: "I'm not that concerned about it."
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