PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson defended the team’s handling of pitcher Zack Wheeler, who is expected to miss the 2015 season because of a torn elbow ligament.
The 24-year-old right-hander made 32 starts and pitched a career-high 185 1-3 innings last year despite recurring elbow pain throughout the season. Wheeler had MRIs in September, January and March and received two platelet-rich plasma injections before his latest MRI revealed a fully-torn ligament.
Alderson compared Wheeler to fellow Mets starter Matt Harvey, who had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 22, 2013 and did not pitch in a game last season.
“Why would we treat somebody like Harvey with the kind of caution that we did and then throw somebody else under the bus? Somebody of essentially equal value to us (as) an organization? That wouldn’t make any sense,” Alderson said Tuesday. “I understand people can debate the number of pitches, the number of innings and this and that, but we simply wouldn’t treat two guys that differently.
“The other thing is, when a guy is being managed and you understand what the sort of apocalyptic result could be, he blows something out, the question is what’s the alternative? If it blows out, it blows out. The alternative is you manage somebody to the point where he’s not useful to you. It’s the proverbial ‘you can’t hurt it anymore.’
“Was the tear inevitable or was it a function of how he was used? From my standpoint, it’s inevitable given the practicality of how someone is used during the course of a major league season.”
Alderson said the team did not consider cutting Wheeler’s season short last year and did its best to manage his pain, including having him occasionally skip bullpen sessions between starts. The Mets did not restrict Wheeler’s throwing this spring training; Alderson said there was no medical reason to do so.
“From my standpoint, there’s no revisionism here,” Alderson said. “This is someone who had to deal with chronic pain over a long period of time. He’s done it to the best of his ability, probably beyond what any of us would have expected. Inevitably, you can’t perform over an entire career with that level of discomfort. We’re not happy this happened, but I believe the silver lining is hopefully the elbow issue will be resolved.”
Alderson said Dillon Gee is the likely replacement for Wheeler in the rotation but added Rafael Montero will get an extended look. Mets manager Terry Collins already said Gee will move back into the rotation and pitching coach Dan Warthen told Gee to start getting his arm stretched out as a starter.
New York’s opening-day starter last year, Gee had been slated for a bullpen role this season.
“It’s tough to feel good about being in the rotation under these circumstances,” Gee said. “I’m a starter again. That’s great. But it’s tough to (be) happy about that under these circumstances.”
A 28-year-old right-hander, Gee was 7-8 with a 4.00 ERA in 22 starts last year, when he missed almost two months because of a strained back muscle. The Mets considered trade options during the offseason but opted to keep him and planned to use a rotation of Matt Harvey, Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese.
“At this point, I was trying to really dig into the bullpen role,” Gee said. “I was trying to really prepare for that, because I thought that was where I was going to end up. Unfortunately for Zack’s sake, I’m back in the rotation. I don’t know. I hate that this is the way I’m back in there for the foreseeable future. I’m just going to try to get stretched back out and do the best I can as a starter.”
Wheeler was scheduled to fly to New York on Tuesday night and meet the following day with team medical director Dr. David Altchek. Wheeler declined to answer questions from reporters until after he meets with Altchek.
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