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Zack Wheeler Continues to Struggle

by Guy Kipp | Posted on Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
(USATSI)

(USATSI)

In the wake of their respective impressive major league debuts last week, New York Mets starting pitchers Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom are, apparently, going to be scrutinized in their next couple of major league starts as a competition for which rookie will remain in the rotation when Dillon Gee returns from the disabled list sometime around Memorial Day.

But, if Montero and deGrom continue to exhibit the poise and skill in their subsequent starts, perhaps the Mets should be tossing another one of their young starters into the “competition”: Zack Wheeler.

Jenrry Mejia was exiled from the rotation to the back end of the bullpen despite arguably showing more in his early-season starts than Wheeler has.

Perhaps it is time to do away with the assumption that Wheeler’s spot in the rotation is an entitlement. Wheeler is 1-4 with a 4.53 ERA and 26 walks in 49 innings pitched. He will turn 24 years old on May 30. DeGrom is 25. Montero is 23. Shouldn’t Wheeler be held up to the same level of accountability that the Mets have for any other top level pitching prospects in their organization?

Other than two superb starts against the Miami Marlins in which Wheeler allowed one run in 12 innings, the right-hander the Mets received when they traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants in 2011 has only put forward one genuinely good start this season, and that was on April 14 against Arizona. He’s allowed 15 walks in 20 innings in May, and must be considered to have regressed since his 7-5, 3.42 ERA performance as a rookie last year.

Before escaping Sunday’s start against Washington without allowing a run in the first inning, Wheeler’s first-inning ERA this season had been over 10.00. Last week, the Mets gave Wheeler four runs to work with in the top of the first inning in Yankee Stadium. Wheeler went out and gave three of those runs right back in the bottom of the first.

Wheeler’s velocity is not an issue. It’s usually in the mid-90s, although with a tendency to dip noticeably after the first three innings. But his command, his control and his ability to throw secondary pitches for strikes and get ahead of hitters are all issues that the Mets need to examine. Can they live with Wheeler’s huge inconsistencies, or is it time that he be judged on the same criteria that younger pitchers who did not make it to the majors before 2014 are being judged on?

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