There has been an ongoing debate about how the New York Mets will alter their starting rotation when Zack Wheeler, the team’s top pitching prospect, makes his much-anticipated debut – probably sometime next month.
Two of the team’s current five starters – Matt Harvey and Jonathon Niese – aren’t going anywhere. On Sunday night, Shaun Marcum, 31, took a step in the right direction to add his name to that list.
Marcum, who signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Mets this winter, was 0-5 with a 6.59 ERA before delivering his best performance of the season during the Mets’ 4-2 victory over the division-leading Atlanta Braves. Marcum yielded two runs on four hits and didn’t walk a batter over a season-high seven innings. In addition, the soft-tossing right-hander struck out a career-high 12 batters, surpassing his previous high of 11 against the Washington Nationals on June 16, 2007, when he was a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Given Marcum’s veteran status and the fact that he’s the highest-paid pitcher in the Mets’ rotation – not counting Johan Santana’s $31 million salary this season – it’s unlikely he’s going to be bounced from the rotation. In fact, manager Terry Collins said that Marcum “is a fit” for the rotation when it was noted that his numbers were worse than fellow starters Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner, according to Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News.
Speaking of Hefner and Gee, they appear to be the frontrunners for bullpen relocation or demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas.
Gee is 2-6 with a 6.34 ERA and has failed to pitch more than five innings in each of his last five starts. He’s made three appearances out the bullpen during his career, with zero coming after the 2011 campaign. If Gee can’t figure it out as a starter – and quick – he may be best suited for a stint in the bullpen, especially when you consider that after Gee’s first time through a lineup this season, opponents are hitting .392 (51-for-130) with eight home runs during subsequent at-bats against him.
Meanwhile, Hefner, who has made 14 appearances out of the bullpen, is 0-5 with a 4.76 ERA in nine starts. After hurling six innings of two-run ball against the Braves on Friday, Hefner has tossed four quality starts during his last six outings.
The Mets’ 7-5 loss to the Braves on Saturday at Citi Field during a continuation of Friday’s suspended game tied Hefner for the longest streak of team losses during one pitcher’s starts to open a season. The Mets lost Anthony Young’s first 10 starts during the 1993 season, according to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com.
Hefner and Gee will both get another opportunity to make their claim as to why they should remain in the rotation when the Subway Series shifts to Yankee Stadium. Hefner will toe the rubber on Wednesday night, followed by Gee in the series finale on Thursday.
Though Marcum hasn’t posted a win, he’s turned a corner over his last three outings. After failing to pitch more than 4 2-3 innings during his first three starts, he’s pitched at least six innings in each of his last three starts. Marcum’s ERA has also dropped from 8.59 to 5.77 during that span.
By the time Wheeler is expected to join the big league club, the Mets will need another starter for a five-game series in Atlanta June 17-20. Until then, Marcum, Gee and Hefner will all have a few more opportunities to separate themselves from each other and make the organization’s decision less complicated.
Justin Silberman is a journalism and new media major at Towson University, located in Baltimore, and true Mets fan.