As soon as the New York Mets acquired Jason Vargas in free agency last month, it was clear that a big-name starter was going to be bumped from the starting rotation barring injury.
With two weeks until Opening Day, it looks as though the race for the last spot is down to just two in Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, a pair of arms who have struggled this spring, per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo.
As chances to impress the organization grow fewer and fewer this spring, Wheeler did not help his case to stay in the rotation on Tuesday night, allowing five runs in three innings of work. It was a disastrous answer to a promising outing against the Yankees in which he struck out four batters in three scoreless innings.
On Wednesday, Matz looked like he would be doomed to a similar outing, allowing two runs in a 33-pitch first inning in which he walked two batters and threw nine of his first 13 offerings out of the strike zone.
The lefty managed to recover though, going an additional 3.1 innings to end his day with five strikeouts.
Neither Wheelers or Matz’s numbers this spring training is good.
In 10 innings of work, Matz has a 10.80 ERA with eight strikeouts and a WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 2.20.
Wheeler has been better, but not by much. Through eight innings this spring, the righty has a 6.75 ERA with 11 strikeouts and a WHIP of 2.13.
Initially, it was believed that the odd man out of the Mets rotation would be sent to the bullpen to start the year. However, there’s a very real possibility that either Wheeler or Matz could be headed to triple-A Las Vegas.
Though the minors are the more likely destination for Matz compared to Wheeler.
Per Matt Ehalt of the Record, the Mets have been “intrigued” by the prospect of Wheeler coming out of the pen. With high velocity paired with swing-and-miss capabilities, the 27-year-old has the stuff to provide the Mets with a different kind of option out of the pen. However, Wheeler expressed his reluctance to head to become a reliever when the Mets initially acquired Vargas.
“I’m just here to be a starting pitcher,” Wheeler said at the time. “That’s what I’ve always been, and that’s what I’m going to be. When I’m healthy, I know I’m just as good as anybody out there.”
Matz has not been viewed as that kind of option after a 2017 season in which he averaged just 6.48 strikeouts per nine innings. Had the Mets not signed the lefty Vargas, Matz might have been included in the rotation by default as the only southpaw starter available.
The problem is that Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, two of New York’s starters over the past two years, are also expected to take on bullpen roles which will make the relief staff a crowded bunch considering the Mets already can trot out Jeurys Familia, Anthony Swarzak, AJ Ramos and Paul Sewald.
So Vegas might be the only option for one of these arms.