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Wheeler gives Mets even more to think about

March 27, 2017

JUPITER, Fla. -- There may have been nothing Zack Wheeler could have done Monday to convince the Mets that, despite an uneven spring and the complications of his innings limit, he deserves a spot in the Opening Day rotation.But if that door was open even a crack for Wheeler, he

JUPITER, Fla. -- There may have been nothing Zack Wheeler could have done Monday to convince the Mets that, despite an uneven spring and the complications of his innings limit, he deserves a spot in the Opening Day rotation.
But if that door was open even a crack for Wheeler, he did his best to take a sledgehammer to it. Saving his best Grapefruit League outing for last, Wheeler held the Marlins scoreless over five efficient innings in a 5-0 win at Roger Dean Stadium. As Seth Lugo served up a quartet of runs to the Nationals a few dozen miles north in Port St. Lucie, Wheeler offered the Mets an impassioned closing argument.
"I think today, I showed them, 'Hey, I still got it,'" Wheeler said. "And when I need to lock in, I can lock in. I think today proved that I am ready. But whether I start out the season or come in later doesn't matter to me. I've only got 100-something innings. Hopefully it will all work out well."

The Mets' decision of Wheeler versus Lugo is more complicated than a simple look at statistics. While Wheeler spent most of his Spring Training easing back into Grapefruit League games, now two full years removed from Tommy John surgery, Lugo impressed against the All-Star lineups of Team USA and Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Consider one situation apples, the other oranges.
Then there is the matter of strategy. Wary of Wheeler's health, the Mets will not let him throw more than approximately 125 innings this season. Even if they determine Wheeler is their best option, they still must decide if he can best serve them at beginning of the season, the end, or possibly even in the bullpen.
Wheeler, for his part, swears he doesn't have a preference. And he certainly doesn't have a choice. The Mets will decide his fate behind closed doors later this week, in meetings beginning Tuesday.
"I went out there and I did the best that I could today," Wheeler said Monday. "I knew today was a big day for me. There's not really much more to say."
"I wouldn't necessarily say I made a statement, but I did well for myself."
Again dialing his fastball as high as 96 mph, Wheeler sat at 94 and above for most of the afternoon. He allowed only two hits, thanks in part to Yoenis Cespedes' lunging catch in left field. More importantly, Wheeler demonstrated the type of command he lacked in posting an 8.59 ERA over his first three outings.
If Wheeler does not make the Opening Day roster, he admitted, "it would be frustrating." But he also understands the Mets' predicament. Some within the organization believe if Wheeler begins the season in extended Spring Training, he could be in even better shape once he returns to the big club. Others see his mid-90s fastball, sharp slider and apparent health, and conclude he is New York's best option now.
"There are some positives and some negatives," manager Terry Collins said. "We've got to consider a lot: what's best for the player, what's best for the organization. This is not time to experiment. This is time to win games."
And if the Mets do not choose Wheeler?
"It's not going to make me lose any sleep," he said. "I just want to pitch. I just want to be healthy. I'm happy just to be out here throwing a baseball."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.