Zack Wheeler is rolling along in Spring Training, though no one seems to be watching. After another strong outing Friday night against the Miami Marlins, his ERA in three starts is 0.84, his WHIP is sub-1.000, and opposing batters are mustering to hit only .216 against him.
But Noah Syndergaard, on his way to triple-A Las Vegas soon, and the injured Matt Harvey have taken all of Wheeler’s “phenom in progress” media attention. Even after stating his desire to pitch Opening Day against the Washington Nationals, manager Terry Collins has Wheeler hidden behind Jonathon Niese, Bartolo Colon and Dillion Gee, keeping a headline matchup against Stephen Strasburg off the back pages.
As frustrating as it may be, keeping guarded expectations of Wheeler might turn out to be among the New York Mets’ better moves this spring.
I would still love to see him on the Citi Field mound Mar. 31, but for all the fan excitement over Wheeler, he’s only thrown 100 MLB innings. He seems laid back and says he enjoys the big city life, but New York has a habit of consuming the hopes and dreams of young pitchers the way I like to chow down at Empanada Mama on 51st Street after a night on the town. It isn’t pretty; akin to hot sauce-soaked fried bread and cheese being run through a wood-chipper.
The Mets would like to save Wheeler from that fate, even at the cost of injecting some real flavor into this season. In Florida, they’ve allowed him to simply throw and work himself into shape with little pressure. Once the season gets going, rotation positions become fluid anyway, and “Wheeler vs. Strasburg” sounds fantastic, except the pitchers don’t really play against each other.
For better or worse, this is a season where not much is expected from the Mets, GM Sandy Alderson’s 90-win nonsense notwithstanding. When Syndergaard is sent west and the team gets closer to moving north, the attention will start to fall on Wheeler, the most exciting active player in the rotation. Sooner or later he will have the keys to the Mets’ season, or at least their relevance, in his hands.
But not yet, not with two weeks of Grapefruit League games still remaining, and not with the Mets content to be stuck in neutral for one more year.