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Injury risks not worrying Wheeler after debut season

Young right-hander recognizes many arm troubles are unavoidable for pitchers

NEW YORK -- Though the two may be markedly different as far as personalities go, Zack Wheeler has shadowed Matt Harvey's career arc since joining the Mets organization in 2011. Following Harvey's path through the Minors, Wheeler made his debut this midseason just as Harvey did a year before.

It is only natural to wonder, then, whether Wheeler will suffer the same type of injury that Harvey did in 2013, tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Wheeler understands that line of thinking. He simply chooses to ignore it.

"Stuff like that, Tommy John stuff, there's not really anything you can do," Wheeler said earlier this week at the Mets' annual holiday party for local schoolchildren. "If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. When a guy's throwing hard, it's more than likely going to happen at some point in your career. It's just part of it. You can only do so much -- just work out, do what you've got to do during the offseason, do what you've been doing because it's kept you healthy so far. So that's what I've been doing."

Though velocity -- like most things -- is not an accurate predictor of future arm injuries, Wheeler did average a full mile per hour slower than Harvey on his average fastball velocity in 2013, and nearly three miles per hour slower on his average slider velocity. Wheeler also only threw 19 2/3 more innings this season than the year before, whereas Harvey made a 33 2/3-inning jump from 2011 to 2012. That put Harvey in Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci's so-called danger zone for young pitchers, while Wheeler stayed outside of it.

Still, as Mets manager Terry Collins likes to say about arm injuries, "When they go, they go." And Wheeler understands that. He just knows he could wind up doing more damage if he attempts to correct a problem that doesn't yet exist.

"You really can't think about it because then you start trying to change things up, and you might not be doing something that helped you out before," said Wheeler, who is in line to throw roughly 200 innings this year.

So Wheeler will forget about all that for now. He plans to report to Spring Training more than a week early, as he did a year ago, to "run around" and "loosen up your body a little bit." Then he will attempt to make the sort of significant strides that Harvey did in 2013 -- minus the injury.

Though Wheeler performed as well as the Mets might have hoped during his 17 big league starts last summer, going 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA, he slogged through some pitch-tipping and command issues early in that run. He and the Mets believe those things are behind him now.

"I think the fact that he knows himself a little better, he's experienced Major League competition for a good part of one year will allow him to be a little more comfortable, a little more confident in what he needs to do," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "More confidence in what he's able to do without having to do something different. The bottom line is pitching well, pitching deep into games and winning."

Asked what needs to change heading into his first full season, Wheeler shrugged.

"Maybe just the mindset going in," he said. "You have a better idea of what you need to do to be a little bit more successful. But nothing really changes. You don't want to change anything because obviously what I've been doing has been working to get me to this point so far."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.

New York Mets, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler