LOS ANGELES — Zack Wheeler had confirmed the Mets’ decision. They thought the righthander had looked fatigued in his start last Tuesday, a stinker in which he could not get out of the second inning. That reassured the Mets they had made the right call sticking with the six-man (or five-man with a spot start) rotation to give their starters an extra day’s rest.
Well, Monday night, Wheeler sent the Mets back to the drawing board to search for other answers and ways to salvage a season that is spinning out of control fast.
A team built on their young power arms in the rotation, the Mets have been at the mercy of those arms, which have also proven to be fragile, ever since. Last season was pretty much lost when three of their starters needed season-ending surgeries and Wheeler could not make it back from March 2015 Tommy John surgery.
And so far, 2017 the Mets have fallen victim to the ups and mostly downs of a struggling starting staff trying to work through too many setbacks to enumerate.
Wheeler got out of the second inning this time, but barely. He was shelled for his second straight start, allowing seven runs on eight hits in two innings against the Dodgers in the Mets’ 10-6 loss. He gave up a career-high three home runs and posted only the third game in his career where he gave up multiple homers.
The Mets’ most consistent pitcher through May, Wheeler has to have scared the Mets over the last week. He has allowed 15 earned runs — including five home runs — in 3.2 innings work over his last two starts. He had allowed 15 earned runs in his eight previous starts combined, and only four home runs in that span from April 23, to June 7.
Wheeler is coming off a set-back filled, two-year rehab. After he was not able to pitch more than one rehab inning in 2016 because of issues with his elbow, Wheeler was supposed to be brought along slowly this season. The 27-year-old righthander, however, wowed the Mets in spring training. Though he would be working with an innings limit, believed to be around 130, he convinced the Mets that they needed him.
“He looked fatigued,” a Mets source said of Wheeler in his last start. “He’s been through a lot to get back to this point. He worked hard through spring training to prove he could come back and he needs that extra day right now.”
But in his last two starts Wheeler had a fifth day of rest. So now what?
The Mets really have very few options.
They are already without Noah Syndergaard (torn right lat) and Matt Harvey (stress injury in right shoulder) for at least the next month. They have little to no options in Triple-A. Tyler Pill, who is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two major league starts, is likely to be called up to make a spot start on Wednesday. The other option, Rafael Montero, came in and pitched long relief Monday night. There are no teams willing to make trades right now and the Mets have a limited farm system with which to make a deal.
So they will try to coax these arms that they have through.
The Mets are committed to the six-man through this turn in the rotation and then they will reassess. They think it’s the smart way to deal with pitchers who are coming off season-ending surgery like Jacob deGrom (elbow), Harvey (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery) and Steven Matz (elbow surgery) — even when they stretched thin.
“These guys aren’t going to say it, but they really need that extra day,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “They all need it right now, so we have to find a way to make it work.”
And the Mets will point to deGrom as one reason why they still believe in their decision.
Sunday, the righthander held the Nationals to one unearned run on three hits over eight innings. After a season of ups and downs, it was the first time that deGrom had put together back-to-back dominant outings and both were on five-days rest. DeGrom, who was named the National League Player of the Week Monday, had pitched a complete game, holding the Cubs to one run on five hits in his previous start.