Zack Wheeler needed a solid start against the Washington Nationals on Thursday night to prove to the New York Mets that he is capable of being the team's No. 5 starter until the injured Jason Vargas returns from an injured hand.
The opposite of that happened as Wheeler was hammered for five runs on seven hits, throwing 58 pitches over two innings of work. It was his second-straight dreadful start against the Nationals in spring training. Last week, he was nailed for five earned runs on seven hits in three innings.
Wheeler's difficult spring has now come to a close with just six days remaining until Opening Day. The right-hander did little to impress the organization, posting an 8.10 ERA while allowing 22 hits in 10 innings.
It's further frustration for the 27-year-old, who missed two-straight seasons from 2015-2016 due to Tommy John surgery that hampered any sort of development at the major-league level.
While his strikeout and swing-and-miss rate has always been promising, Wheeler has constantly struggled with locating his pitches and it was no different this spring as opposing lineups had no problem teeing off on his mistakes.
Prior to his Thursday start, Mets officials already voiced their concerns about Wheeler's status in the Mets rotation, believing the bullpen or triple-A was the better option for him. Now it looks all but guaranteed that he'll be in a relief role or in the minors.
There would have been no chance for Wheeler to make the rotation had Vargas not hurt his non-pitching hand, which required surgery. The left-hander was brought in via free agency in February to provide proven depth to a pitching staff that has been snakebitten by injuries for the past five years.
Joining Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, it left one spot up for grabs between Steven Matz — who struggled at times during spring training but has straightened things out — and Wheeler. Matz's status as a left-hander only bolstered his place in the rotation more when Vargas went down, leaving Wheeler as the lone question mark.
Should Vargas not be ready for the opening week of the season, Seth Lugo could very well be the Mets' temporary No. 5 starter instead of Wheeler. The righty who stepped in as a stopgap starter once injuries hit New York's rotation over the last two seasons is enjoying a strong spring, posting a 2.87 ERA after going four scoreless innings against the Nationals on Thursday.