Zack Wheeler Reminds New York Mets That Opening Day Isn’t Set in Stone

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With exactly 100 innings of MLB experience, Zack Wheeler says he’s aiming for the biggest honor a pitcher can get in spring training – Opening Day starter. The New York Mets have to be ecstatic about Wheeler’s potential and progress since coming over in the Carlos Beltran trade, but is he really ready for the added pressure of starting for the best Day 1 team in baseball history?

Mets manager Terry Collins has said he’s leaning toward giving the ball to the veteran Jonathon Niese on Mar. 31, though this choice may seem underwhelming to a fanbase starving for a jump start on their reasons to believe. With the other two viable candidates either injured (Matt Harvey) or old and unfamiliar (Bartolo Colon), would it be so crazy to give the nod to Wheeler so we can get an electrifying immersion into the Mets’ future even if it is only a couple days early?

“That’s just my mindset coming in,” Wheeler told ESPN, “to push myself to try to get that Opening Day spot.”

Pushing himself to the next level over the next few weeks won’t hurt Wheeler’s chances; if he dominates from the get-go in Port St. Lucie and Niese takes too long settling in, Collins may have no choice but to go with the hungry young righty.

But there is another scenario to consider that has slightly less to do with Wheeler and more to do with the general handedness of the Mets’ rotation – with only one lefty (Niese), starting him on Opening Day means four straight regular days of right-handed pitching. If, say, Clayton Kershaw were the southpaw in question, there’s no debate, but that’s not the case.

Ultimately, the season is going to take its twists and turns. Guys will get bumped and guys will get traded. Someone will injure themselves doing something stupid. Sometimes it rains. The Opening Day gig is largely ceremonial, usually notable only to historians and beat writers looking for extra column inches. Having a properly set rotation is important, but so are the fans who pay to watch that rotation pitch.

I’m not saying the Mets or Collins should name next month’s starter right now either way. Just make it known that this is an open competition; may the best man win. No more “leaning towards” quotes; just let one of these guys make it obvious. Give us something to root for and something extra to get juiced about — a little friendly competition. Is that too much to ask for?

2014 was supposed to be “The Year,” right? Well, the Mets are already down one ace and, the additions of Colon and Curtis Granderson notwithstanding, none of the media prognosticators are expecting much from this squad. Why not play this season fast and loose and maybe one of those twists will turn into something unexpected?

Giving Wheeler a real shot to open Citi Field this season shows the fans that the Mets are at least committed to having some fun this summer, playing some rock and rolling the dice on a pressure-free 162 games.

Pitching without an inning limit for the first time, I say don’t keep Wheeler restricted any longer. He’s all revved up. Unleash him on the league and let’s get this party started.

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