By Ernie Palladino
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If it isn’t time now, it had better be soon.
Except for the games Matt Harvey pitches — and those are wonderful days and evenings indeed, even when he doesn’t have his best stuff — the Mets have fallen out of relevance.
Nobody cares. The batting averages are going down, the offense is horrendous. It’s a boring team.
There’s only one solution.
It’s Wheeler time.
Oh, sure. Now comes the argument and rationale. It’s too early. Don’t rush the kid. Bring him up now and the pressures of Major League Baseball might ruin this promising flame-thrower forever.
It might be worth the risk. Really, does anybody really want to head out to Citi Field to watch Jeremy Hefner struggle through his starts? Apparently not, since the 0-4 Hefner drew an announced crowd of just 21,000 and change to watch him give up four runs in six innings to a light-hitting White Sox team Wednesday and jump his ERA to 4.63.
Yes, we can use the Rangers’ playoff game as an excuse. But it really isn’t. This is a team that needs some juice. Hefner, certainly game and willing, isn’t the guy who can supply that.
Wheeler can, though. Just as fans waited breathlessly for Harvey to make his debut last season, that’s how eager they are for Wheeler to get up here. Ideally, he might have done that with his catcher, Travis d’Arnaud. But d’Arnaud, the centerpiece of the R.A. Dickey trade to Toronto, injured his foot and will be out for a while longer.
And the Mets can’t wait for that, either. Now that it appears Wheeler has overcome some early-season problems, the time is fast approaching for him to make the next step. He appears to have turned a corner with wins in his last two games in Triple-A Las Vegas, and he’s done it impressively.
He staged his own Cinco de Mayo celebration Sunday against Sacramento with a six-inning, three-hit outing, striking out four and walking one. In his last two outings, he’s gone 12 2/3 innings, allowing just one run on eight hits and two walks, while striking out 12.
That’s a nice way to turn around a season that had seen him struggle with his control and pitch count. He hadn’t lasted longer than 5 1/3 inning in any of his first five starts. But now he’s dominating.
This would be the ideal time to bring him up. Jon Niese is going to produce, and Harvey, well, what can we say? That near-perfect one-hit, no-decision in his last start says everything about the kid.
With Dillon Gee providing no heat at all, and Hefner’s baseline as a mediocre back-of-rotation guy with little hope of improving from there, the Mets could use a jolt right now. There’s no time like the present to add Wheeler.
Too early? A lot of people said that last July when Harvey came up. Of course, that didn’t work out as well as anyone hoped. All he’s done in 17 major league starts since July 26 is have one perfect game broken up by an infield single, pitch to a 2.07 ERA, walk 38 in 108 2/3 innings, and rip off a 4-0, 1.28 start to this year.
The radio-heads have begun to use his name in the same sentence as the sainted Tom Seaver and Doc Gooden. And yes, maybe it’s premature for that. Or maybe it’s not. The point is, Harvey has arrived after much the same executive hand-wringing that kept him in the minors until after the All-Star break. To do the same to Wheeler will not only deprive Terry Collins of another potential weapon that could bring relevancy to what is quickly becoming a lost season would be pointless.
If the holdup is because the Mets would rather start him on the road instead of Citi Field for purposes of pressure reduction, then it won’t hurt to wait until until next week in St. Louis, no problem. Do it then, definitely. But do it soon.
As Yogi Berra once said about the left field shadows in Yankee Stadium, “It gets late early out there.”
Ditto for the Mets’ season. It’s getting late early.
Time to bring up Wheeler and see what he’s got.
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