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Why Zack Wheeler's next start may be the Mets' most important game of 2019

Zack Wheeler #45 of the Mets looks on

Zack Wheeler #45 of the Mets looks on against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field on Tuesday, July 23, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Mets played their 100th game on Tuesday night, which according to the crackerjack Newsday Sports analytics department means they have 62 left.

That is approximately five dozen too many when you are out of postseason contention, but it does not mean that there are no meaningful games left on the schedule.

In fact, arguably the most meaningful of all — or at least the most meaningful pitching start — tentatively is set for Friday night at Citi Field against the otherwise uninteresting Pittsburgh Pirates.

It is then that Zack Wheeler is set to get his first start since July 7 and last before next week’s trade deadline, assuming he shows up to work on Wednesday undamaged by Tuesday’s 30 pitches of live batting practice.

Wheeler indicated after pitching to Tomas Nido, Juan Lagares and Adeiny Hechavarria before the Mets faced the Padres at Citi Field that all went well. (Jason Vargas, another potential trade-bait arm, started against San Diego.)

Manager Mickey Callaway gave Wheeler a rave review afterward, and Wheeler himself said, “Everything’s good. I just wanted to kind of get that facing-live-hitters out of the way before I actually jump back into a game, because it’s been a few days now.”

All of this is just in time to save the Mets from the trade-deadline debacle that would have resulted from Wheeler, whose contract is up after this season, hitting July 31 with his right shoulder “impingement” still impinged.

Seemingly healthy now, he is certain to attract interest as a late-season rental for a team in need of pitching help, including the Yankees.

His value could be enhanced by developments outside the Mets’ control, such as the surging Giants deciding they no longer are in the mood to unload postseason savant Madison Bumgarner.

(Memo to Mets: Not sending Wheeler to the Yankees just because they are the Yankees would be foolish. If the deal is right, make it. Mets fans will understand, even if he beats the Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series. OK, maybe not that. But Game 3 would be fine.)

Enjoy the drama while you can, Mets fans. Soon all you will have to root for will be Pete Alonso being named Rookie of the Year, Jeff McNeil winning the batting title and Edwin Diaz finding his way back to 2018.

Wheeler, 29, has been through some of this before, including as a principal in the ill-fated trade to the Brewers for Carlos Gomez in 2015. His name also was bandied about during last year’s trade season.

Asked about the strangeness of his circumstance, he said, “Last year was the same way. You try to just go out there and get a win here and concentrate on that. I’m here now, so this is what I’m worried about.”

Callaway praised Wheeler for how he has dealt with the situation.

“The one thing about Zack is he doesn’t worry about too much,” the manager said. “He’s a pretty laid back guy. He loves to go out there and pitch. He’s really focused on that fifth day, and I don’t think the rest of it bothers him.

“He knows he can’t control it. We’ve talked to him about it. He understands the situation. He understands that it is out of his control and he just wants to go out there and be great.”

Nothing would be greater for the Mets than for Wheeler to be great on Friday, when he is likely to be limited to 75 to 85 pitches.

“I’m sure that we’ll do everything we can to take care of him,” Callaway said, “but there will be some sort of pitch count when the time comes.”

Whatever the number, no pitches will count more for these Mets than those.

New York Sports