PHILADELPHIA -- The Mets have finally seen the best of what Zack Wheeler can do when healthy, and they will take no chances in jeopardizing Wheeler's status heading into the offseason and 2019.
"We're really excited about the year he had, and we feel like we'd probably be taking the best care of him we can if we shut him down at this point," manager Mickey Callaway said Wednesday.
So Wheeler will be relegated to spectator for the final 10 games of the season, with rookie Corey Oswalt assuming his spot in the rotation beginning with Saturday at Washington.
Wheeler, after not pitching in the Majors in 2015 and '16 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, experienced an injury-abbreviated '17 campaign. This season, he has fared much better; after a rocky start, Wheeler became one of baseball's best pitchers during the second half, earning a 9-1 record and a 1.68 ERA in 11 starts.
But the success has bred longer outings. Wheeler, 28, has logged nearly 100 more innings than he did a year ago. He feels OK, but there's little reason to push the limits when injuries have kept him from defining those limits in the first place.
"[My] body after this long is starting to wear down a little bit," Wheeler said. "But if I really needed to for the playoff push or something, I could definitely go out there and finish it up. That's not why I'm stopping. It's just being smart, really."
The decision, Callaway said, was one made collectively. He first discussed it with pitching coach Dave Eiland and assistant general manager John Ricco. They brought in Wheeler. They consulted the strength and training staffs. Wheeler's agent phoned in. In the end, they chose to take it easy on Wheeler.
"I've done some thinking, and I wish the first part of the season was more like the second part," Wheeler, who posted a 4.44 ERA through 18 first-half starts, said. "Obviously, I think overall it was a good season for me. A bit of a learning experience at the beginning. I made some adjustments, and I was able to take off the second half."
If Wheeler's 2019 resembles anything similar to this second half, the Mets can count on their rotation -- one that's posted a 3.22 ERA since the All-Star break to earn MLB's third-best mark -- to again be a strength.
"I think we all made strides," Wheeler said. "[Jacob deGrom]'s going for the [National League] Cy Young [Award], I had a good second half. Steven Matz's looking like a new and better pitcher, and I'm happy to see that. Noah Syndergaard's been hurt for the most part this year, but he's taken some great strides lately to get back to where he was. And [Jason Vargas], he's turned his season around.
"Hopefully, we can all stay on this path and start out next year like we're finishing this year."
Flores' knees hurting
Wilmer Flores has been experiencing pain in both of his knees for "a while," Callaway said, and was not available Wednesday because he returned to New York to undergo tests. If all goes well, he'll be available off the bench for the Mets' series opener in Washington on Thursday night.