Confident Right-Hander Ready To Take The Next Step During Sophomore Season

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Zack Wheeler wants to be the man.

It appears he’ll get every opportunity.

With stud Matt Harvey likely out for the season due to Tommy John surgery, Wheeler plans to step in and lead the Mets’ rotation by example.

“I’m going into spring training trying to win that Opening Day job,’’ Wheeler told the NY Post on Tuesday. “That is my mind-set going in, no doubt about it. I feel really good right now and I am really confident going into camp.’’

Wheeler showed signs last season of becoming a co-ace with Harvey, which is exactly what the Mets envisioned when they acquired the hard-throwing right-hander and cash from the San Francisco Giants for Carlos Beltran back in July 2011.

Wheeler finished his rookie season 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 17 starts. He struck out 84, walked 46 and allowed just 90 hits in 100 innings. The 23-year-old right-hander will be joined in what figures to be a very strong rotation by veteran right-handers Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee, as well as left-hander Jonathon Niese. The fifth spot will likely come down to a battle between recently signed John Lannan, veteran Daisuke Matsuzaka and youngster Jenrry Mejia.

“We have a good starting rotation now, but with Matt being gone, we are all going to have to step up and do a little bit better,’’ Wheeler said. “I’m kind of a laid-back guy. That is who I am. But there is no doubt that I love to do my job and I will always try to give our team the best chance to win.”

Wheeler said he will do everything he can to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump.”

“The biggest thing I learned last year is what it takes to be successful at the big league level. Not having to do too much, just relying on all your stuff, mentally and physically,” he said. “What I want to do is control my body. Sometimes last year on like a 1-2 count, I wasn’t trying too hard, but my body would just take over. Now in those situations, just think about how you are going to attack it.’’

Harvey’s problem right now isn’t his recovery from surgery, but his impatience to get back to work. he hopes to make an impact later in the season.

“I’d like to shoot for being out there in September,” Harvey told the Mets’ official websiteicon1 With Harvey A Long Way Off, Wheeler Vows To Be The Mets Ace In 2014. “Obviously I don’t make those decisions. I can only prepare to the best of my ability and make sure I’m in good strength and flexibility, and when they do let me go, I’m good to go.”

Harvey initially chose to attempt to strengthen a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The 24-year-old later reversed course, undergoing surgery on Oct. 22.

“Everything is going well,” Harvey said. “I haven’t had the slightest setback. I’m itching to get back out and pick up a baseball again. Whatever the doc says, I’ve got to follow those rules.”

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