The last time Zack Wheeler pitched in a game for the Mets, the pitcher who came out of the bullpen to relieve him was Daisuke Matsuzaka. It’s been a while since Sept. 25, 2014.
After a protracted recovery from Tommy John surgery, Wheeler said Wednesday that he feels good and is ready to begin his offseason throwing program later this month and get his career back on track in the spring.
“The biggest thing for me right now is to stay healthy throughout the whole year,” Wheeler said at the Mets’ coat drive at Citi Field to benefit New York Cares. “Pitch the whole season, whether it be starting, the bullpen, whatever. My main goal right now is to stay healthy. I missed the last two seasons, and that wasn’t very fun. I just want to be up here in New York, stay on the field, and help the team win.”
Wheeler has been a starter throughout his professional career with the exception of eight appearances out of the bullpen for Single-A Augusta in the Giants’ system in the summer of 2010. The reason Wheeler is talking about the possibility of relieving now is that Mets general manager Sandy Alderson mentioned it on Sunday at the winter meetings, stressing that the scenario was hypothetical.
The Mets have Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom at the top of their rotation, with Matt Harvey coming back from a season cut short by shoulder troubles. Steven Matz also is set for a rotation spot, and that leaves one opening to be filled by either Wheeler, Robert Gsellman or Seth Lugo.
Gsellman, a 23-year-old righthander, debuted in August and was excellent down the stretch, posting a 2.42 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance for a total of 44 2⁄3 innings. Lugo was another key to the Mets’ playoff push, posting a 2.68 ERA in his eight starts and also fared well in nine relief appearances where he held opponents to a .495 OPS. Given their performance and the desire to keep Wheeler healthy, a shift to relief at the age of 26 might make sense.
“I’ve started my whole life, and obviously I’d like to do that,” Wheeler said. “But they’re looking out for me, innings-wise and stuff like that. I’ve been out for two years, so . . . whatever’s best for my health is what’s fine with me and the plan going forward.”