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Rule 330? We want a recount, Mets

Zach Wheeler of the Mets pitches against the

Zach Wheeler of the Mets pitches against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field on Wednesday, Aug. 27th, 2014. Credit: Errol Anderson

On Aug. 15, Zack Wheeler threw 120 pitches in a win against the Cubs. That was a career high.

Terry Collins was asked if the Mets would limit Wheeler's pitches in his next start. The manager said they might have to.

Why? The "330 rule" instituted by Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen.

"Dan and I talk about the '330 rule,' " Collins said. "That's for three games -- 330 pitches. So his next game, we may have to taper him back. You're going to hear a lot of, 'I'm OK, I'm OK, let me go, let me pitch one more inning.' We've heard that. But we're going to stick by our policy."

The only problem? It appears the Mets have no such rule.

"I think there's a rule of thumb," general manager Sandy Alderson said this past week. "I think if you go back and look at the numbers for some of our starters, it's not followed uniformly. So I'd say no, there's not a rule."

This is not to pick on Warthen and Collins or say there's a disconnect between the field staff and front office.

The Mets do try to limit the pitch counts of their young starters. Everyone agrees on that. But there is no magic number.

Wheeler did not immediately get yanked from the mound by a big orange-and-blue hook after he threw his 98th pitch against the A's on Aug. 20. (That was pitch 330 in a three-game span.)

In fact, Wheeler went on to throw five more pitches against Oakland before Collins took him out. So that was 103 on that day and 335 in a three-game span.

The Mets are doing their best to monitor workloads and keep their young starters healthy. They did it with Matt Harvey and he still broke down and needed Tommy John surgery. They are doing it with Wheeler and Jacob deGrom and others in the organization.

Still, it is not an exact science.

As Collins said, "Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't . . . You can work as hard as you can to try to keep them healthy, but sometimes they break."

The Mets basically gave deGrom a paid two-week vacation on the disabled list earlier this month when he reported some shoulder stiffness. Before he was shut down, deGrom had thrown 312 pitches combined in his last three outings.

Club executives mentioned that the rest would allow deGrom to finish the season without running into his innings-limit cap. The Rookie of the Year candidate has appeared to stay healthy in two post-DL starts, so the caution seems to have worked.

Still, there is no uniformity to how many pitches a starter should throw in two games or three games or any span you'd like to consider. "Not too many" appears to be the only consistent answer.

"We leave that to the pitching coach and manager to determine," Alderson said. "Obviously, we're concerned about overuse on a season level as well as an individual-game level and over shorter periods of time."

Alderson also said the "330 rule" is not in use in the Mets' minor-league system.

Collins, who used to be the team's minor-league field coordinator, admits there still is plenty of debate in the game about how to protect those precious arms before pitchers even get to the big leagues, let alone when they make it to The Show.

"Boy," Collins said. "That is one of the questions that every organization asks each other every spring: 'What can we do best, No. 1, to protect our minor-league pitchers and the prospects, especially, and yet be able to get them ready to pitch in the big leagues?'

"You talk to the old guys, it's to let them pitch. You talk to the new guys, you've got innings limits, you've got pitch counts, you've got extra days' rest they're concerned with. I'm not sure what the true answer is because so many pitchers are being hurt these days.

"I've led seminars about the safety of pitchers, and the one thing that came out at the end is if they're going to break, they're going to break."

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