By Ed Coleman
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (WFAN) — Zack Wheeler may eventually be headed to the Mets’ bullpen when the regular season rolls around on March 29, but he’ll start the first exhibition game this spring when the Mets host the Atlanta Braves on Friday in Port St. Lucie.
On Wednesday, Mets manager Mickey Callaway announced his pitchers for the first three spring training games, and they are as follows:
Friday vs. Atlanta: Wheeler will start followed by Hansel Robles, Chris Flexen, Paul Sewald, Corey Oswalt, Jacob Rhame, Tyler Bashlor, Jamie Callahan and Drew Smith.
Bashlor and Smith have already drawn high praise from coaches in camp. Bashlor was at both St. Lucie and Binghamton last season and combined for 84 strikeouts in 50 innings (46 appearances) with 13 saves and a 3.44 ERA. He needs better control but has looked sharp here and has high heat.
Smith came over in the Lucas Duda deal with Tampa Bay last season. His overall minor league numbers speak for themselves: 10.1 strikeouts to 2.7 walks per nine innings and a 1.80 ERA in 140 innings.
Interestingly, Callaway was asked how he was treating Wheeler now, as a starter or reliever, and answered: “He’s definitely a starting pitcher. I think for us to be the best possible team we can be, we have to have him be a starter. And he’s going to go out there and do everything he can to win this competition that we have going on.”
Nonetheless, the situation exists, with the addition of Jason Vargas last week, of six starters vying for five spots. Stay tuned.
Saturday vs St. Louis: Seth Lugo will start followed by Kevin McGowan, Marcos Molina, P.J. Conlon, Corey Taylor and Gerson Bautista.
Molina, who’s been noted for his great work ethic, split between St. Lucie and Binghamton last year. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015.
Bautista has opened eyes with a 100-mph fastball at times, but he is very raw and needs work on his delivery. He came from the Red Sox in the Addison Reed deal last year. He had control problems and a high ERA at single-A Salem for Boston, but finishing up at St. Lucie, he struck out 20 and walked just three batters in 14 innings.
Sunday vs Miami: Robert Gsellman gets the start, followed by Jeurys Familia, Jerry Blevins, A.J. Ramos, Anthony Swarzak and Rafael Montero.
All three games are at First Data Field in Port St. Lucie.
As far as the leadoff hitter situation goes, Callaway is still undetermined which way he’ll go. But Juan Lagares will likely lead off Friday because “it’s just more to get guys at-bats. Lagares is going through some swing changes, so you might see him leading off a lot in spring training, just to make sure he gets as many at-bats as possible.”