New York Mets top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler is on the verge of the joining the big league club. Wheeler’s much-anticipated major league debut, scheduled for Tuesday in Atlanta, will inevitably bump a pitcher out of the Mets’ starting rotation.
Barring injury, there are currently two candidates competing to avoid being moved to the bullpen at Wheeler’s expense. Those two would be Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner.
Recently, both Gee and Hefner have pitched well, making the competition a little tighter – and perhaps longer. While manager Terry Collins admitted Wednesday that he is already thinking about how to configure his rotation once Wheeler arrives, he said the Mets will go with a six-man rotation.
"He is not replacing anybody," Collins said, as reported by Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. "What you end up doing, with the doubleheader Tuesday..., what we are gonna do, most likely, when Zack comes, we will go with an extra starting pitcher for a turn so everybody can stay in line. We'll see how those games come out certainly we have no intention of jerking anybody out (of the rotation) at this time."
On Wednesday night, Gee continued building his case, shutting down the National League Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals (42-23), who entered the game with the league’s best batting average at .277. During the Mets’ (24-36) 5-1 victory over the Cardinals, Gee (5-6 4.84 ERA) scattered six hits, walked two and struck out seven in 6 2-3 innings. His lone mistake came in the sixth inning, when first baseman Allen Craig belted his second home run of the series, a solo shot with one out.
In each of his last three starts, Gee has tossed at least 6 2-3 innings, posting a 1.29 ERA while going 3-0 with 26 strikeouts and just three walks. Even more impressive, he’s been the winning pitcher in the past three Mets victories.
Despite dealing with flexor tendinitis in his right arm since spring training, the right-hander has now put together three straight quality starts. Pitching to protect his spot in the rotation, Gee has come through at a time when both he and the Mets have needed it most.
"After those outings in the first [part] of the year, I'm glad to finally go out there and give the team a chance to win and try and go deep into the game," Gee said, as reported by Matt Ehalt of ESPNNewYork.com.
Meanwhile, Hefner, who took the loss Tuesday against St. Louis, has also been up to the task. In each of his last four starts, he’s pitched at least six innings, going 1-1 with a 2.52 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. For the season, he’s 1-6 with a 4.11 ERA.
Hefner had one of his roughest outings of the season in the series opener on Tuesday, as he allowed six runs in six innings. However, five of them were unearned because of a Daniel Murphy error in the fifth inning, which opened the floodgates for the Cardinals. Like Gee, Hefner’s lone consequential mistake came against Craig, who capped a five-run inning with a three-run homer.
Expect the competition to continue for a least few more starts after Wheeler is called up. At some point – and sooner rather than later – a decision will have to be made. But with Gee and Hefner in a dogfight, it will only make the organization’s decision tougher.
Justin Silberman is a journalism and new media major at Towson University, located in Baltimore, and true Mets fan.