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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

The most scrutinized Mets doubleheader in a long time

Zack Wheeler delivers a pitch during a spring

Zack Wheeler delivers a pitch during a spring training workout at Tradition Field. (February 15, 2013) Photo Credit: Alejandra Villa

ATLANTA - Zack Wheeler won't be the only one feeling nervous Tuesday night.

His family and friends, many of whom are expected at Turner Field, will live and die with every pitch. Add to that the Mets' frustrated fan base, which has been dutifully waiting for Wheeler since he was acquired for Carlos Beltran on July 28, 2011.

Then there is Terry Collins, a manager in the last year of his contract, who is anticipating butterflies because he doesn't "want all the hype to go for naught." And last but not least, Sandy Alderson.

Short of Wheeler himself, the general manager has the most to lose if things don't unfold as predicted, and Tuesday is the moment when all of that dreamy potential must be transported from Las Vegas to a real, live major-league game.

Wheeler doesn't have to be a success overnight, of course. Few are. But as one of only two names in the plus column for Alderson -- we'll count the perpetually injured Travis d'Arnaud as the other -- Wheeler's future will go a long way toward defining the GM's tenure in Flushing.

Right this second, Alderson is working on an incomplete. The Mets remain a fractured mess on the field, but he still has Wheeler and d'Arnaud in his back pocket. The GM also made a bunch of promises during Saturday's Q&A session with season-ticket holders that suggested he'll be greenlighted to add some upgrades over the next six months.

But those players aren't here yet, and the big news with d'Arnaud was getting clearance Monday to run for the first time since breaking his toe two months ago. What's left is Wheeler, and piggybacking Tuesday's doubleheader with Matt Harvey increases the pressure on everyone involved.

Collins understands that, and the only thing he can do as manager is try to contain the hysteria that has swirled around Wheeler since the Grapefruit League. It's an uphill battle.

"I told him he's only one guy," Collins said. "He's going to have to realize that he can't do it all. He's just got to do his share."

Wheeler doesn't need the manager to tell him that. All he has to do is look at Harvey's 5-1 record (and eight no-decisions) despite a 2.04 ERA that is second in the National League to Clayton Kershaw's 1.84. Adam Wainwright, right behind Harvey with a 2.18 ERA, is 10-3 for the Cardinals.

"I don't think that I'm the savior at all," Wheeler said. "We might not be doing too well right now, but I know the talent of these guys and hopefully we can turn it around soon."

Wheeler should help. But there were a couple of other moves Monday that showed the Mets are still a ways from figuring things out. The Jordany Valdespin experiment, only a week old, is apparently kaput after Daniel Murphy was switched back to second base for the Braves series opener.

And with Murphy sliding over a few steps to his right, that also means Lucas Duda -- supposedly the long-shot candidate to replace the demoted Ike Davis -- is now the Mets' everyday first baseman. From the moment Davis was first booted to Vegas, this was the switch that needed to happen. But the Mets' decision-makers chose to stall for what Collins said at the time would have sent a "terrible message" to Davis.

Eventually, the team felt it was a better idea to give the impression they are trying to compete on a nightly basis. Wheeler is a crucial part of that mission statement, and Collins is hoping this shuffled lineup will not waste his starts like the Mets have been doing to Harvey for the first 21/2 months.

There was talk Monday of the Mets using Sunday's giddy walk-off win as a "springboard" for the weeks ahead. They used similar language after last month's sweep of the Yankees and catapulted themselves into a brick wall. The difference this time is the addition of Wheeler, and nothing stokes the embers of a team's flickering optimism like a bullwhip-armed young pitcher.

It's probably why Collins was in an especially good mood Monday, throwing playful jabs at Bob Costas and delivering pregame lines that should have been followed by a rimshot. When asked if Harvey could be a guide for the newbie Wheeler, Collins replied, "You mean find him a supermodel?"

Everyone laughed. But the tension will be much, much higher Tuesday night at Turner Field. The Mets hope they will find themselves a superstar.


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