Who should be the Mets’ fifth starter?

When Zack Wheeler tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, it seemed clear at the time that Dillon Gee would step back into the rotation, where he has experienced modest success over the past five seasons.

Not so fast, say some others within the organization, who are curious to see what Rafael Montero can do. What about you? Who should be the Mets’ fifth starter?

Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Fred Wilpon and “the best meeting I’ve ever been a part of”

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Over the past half-decade, Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon has made himself exceedingly scarce in public settings. And while Wilpon continues to avoid interview requests on a regular basis, he has become a more visible presence at Mets camp, frequently meeting with manager Terry Collins before and after games.

wilpon_fred720_wr9f5xxy_pe8vj3pcThat manifested itself in a different way early Monday morning, when Wilpon gathered everyone in big league camp for his first closed-door meeting with players in years. One player described the meeting as exceedingly positive and “very, very genuine,” saying Wilpon expressed to the players how badly he wants to win.

“Fred’s always been upbeat,” third baseman David Wright said. “I’d say that the vast majority of conversations that I’ve ever had with Mr. Wilpon have been very upbeat, so nothing different.”

Wilpon, who has not spoken on record in over two years, declined comment on the meeting, brushing past a group of media members with his bodyguard.

Players, however, did not describe Wilpon as angry or even upset, despite six straight losing seasons. To the contrary, they portrayed the 78-year-old owner as cheerful and optimistic; one player went as far as to call Monday’s gathering “the best meeting I’ve ever been a part of.”

“I’d like to think that whenever anybody has the floor, that it gets everybody’s attention,” Wright said. “When you have very few meetings, regardless of what the meetings are about, they mean a little bit more. When you start having meetings for the sake of having meetings, sometimes the message doesn’t quite come through. But when you have limited meetings about baseball, like we have, when somebody speaks, the message I think comes through a little clearer.”

Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Projecting the Mets’ Opening Day roster, March 28

With so many cuts and injuries over the past two weeks, let’s give this another go:

metsbagLineup:
CF Juan Lagares
3B David Wright
1B Lucas Duda
RF Michael Cuddyer
LF Curtis Granderson
C  Travis d’Arnaud

SS Wilmer Flores
2B Matt Reynolds

In light of the Mets’ comments yesterday regarding Daniel Murphy, I’m going to go ahead and assume Murphy will miss the season’s first five games. That opens the door for Danny Muno to make the roster, but Reynolds seems to be the choice here given his torrid spring.

Bench:
C Anthony Recker
OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis
OF John Mayberry, Jr.

INF Ruben Tejada
INF Eric Campbell

No changes here. Though the Mets continue to talk about Muno as an option, theoretically at the expense of Campbell, I have a hard time envisioning that actually happening. Campbell, for the Mets, is a known asset.

Rotation:
RHP Bartolo Colon
RHP Jacob deGrom
RHP Matt Harvey
LHP Jon Niese

RHP Dillon Gee

Again, while the Mets have talked about using Rafael Montero here, they’ve also spoken at length about what Gee means to the club. Gee’s job may not be safe for long, but right now it is.

Bullpen:
RHP Jenrry Mejia (CL)
RHP Jeurys Familia

RHP Vic Black
RHP Carlos Torres
RHP Rafael Montero
RHP Buddy Carlyle
LHP Sean Gilmartin

The lefty competition is still wide open, though Gilmartin seems to have reestablished himself as the favorite with a few successful outings in a row. The biggest question mark here is Black, who climbed back on a mound Saturday for the first time in two weeks. Black’s status remains iffy for Opening Day, making it conceivable the Mets could add a second lefty — Scott Rice or Dario Alvarez — to the mix, or perhaps even prospect Zach Thornton, who’s had a nice spring.

Disabled list:
2B Daniel Murphy, RHP Bobby Parnell, RHP Zack Wheeler, LHP Josh Edgin.

Still in camp:
C Johnny Monell*, INF Danny Muno*, OF Matt den Dekker, OF Cesar Puello, RHP Erik Goeddel, RHP Zach Thornton*, LHP Dario Alvarez, RHP Scott Rice*.

*Denotes non-roster invitee

Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Odds for this much cake? Not so good.

Early Friday morning, members of the Mets’ culinary staff emerged from the clubhouse kitchen carrying three separate birthday cakes: one each for Michael Cuddyer (age 36), Johnny Monell (29) and Matt Harvey (26). The team also acknowledged Brandon Nimmo, in Minor League camp, who turned 22.

All four began this spring in a group of 57 players invited to big league camp, which begged the question of how ridiculous the odds of this happening must be. Though it takes just 23 people in a group for there to be at least a 50-percent chance of a shared birthday, four separate people sharing a birthday in a group of 57 seemed outlandish.

Not for Twitter follower @AdamMets, who used something called a Poisson Approximation to determine that the odds of this happening are roughly 0.81%:

So now you know, math whizzes. One of the cakes was Oreo-flavored, by the way, which in so many ways seems so much more interesting.

Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Harvey (birth)Day goes swimmingly in Jupiter

JUPITER, Fla. — Consider this mathematical improbability: Matt Harvey was one of four Mets players to celebrate a birthday on Friday, receiving an early-morning cake in the clubhouse alongside outfielder Michael Cuddyer and catcher Johnny Monell. (The fourth, outfield prospect Brandon Nimmo, is in Minor League camp.) But his celebration did not linger. At age 26, there was much work to do.

It certainly seemed like business as usual later in the day, when Harvey waited out a brief rain delay before setting a new high of 80 pitches in his 4 1/3-inning, one-run outing against the Cardinals. Though Harvey was less efficient than he would have liked, the most remarkable aspect of his outing was how unremarkable it all seemed. He was just plain old Matt Harvey, hitting 97 mph on a notoriously slow Roger Dean Stadium radar gun while keeping the Cardinals largely off the basepaths.

After giving up a leadoff double to Peter Bourjos, which resulted in a sacrifice fly, Harvey retired eight in a row until Bourjos reached again on a strikeout and wild pitch. Harvey struck out five in total, walking none and allowing three hits.

With a week until camp breaks, Harvey will start one more time in Florida, before making his season debut on April 9 in Washington. At that point, he will be 17-and-a-half months removed from Tommy John surgery.

Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Harvey on Mets passing him over for Opening Day: “It’s something that I expected.”

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — As far back as September, Matt Harvey had penciled Opening Day onto his calendar, going as far as to proclaim that he was chalking the Nationals up “as a ‘W’” on April 6.

IMG_2812The realities of rehabilitation and the politics of Mets camp have slowed him only slightly. A more subdued Harvey tipped his cap on Tuesday to Bartolo Colon, who will receive the Opening Day start in his stead, and to Jacob deGrom, who will start the home opener. Harvey will pitch the third game of the season on April 9, as well as the Mets’ second home game on April 14.

“It’s something that I expected,” Harvey said. “I was happy to be healthy going into Spring Training, so … I’m happy that I get to start in Washington. I’m excited to throw there. We’re excited to match up with them.”

As for the ‘W’ he had penciled in on Opening Day?

“Bartolo’s got that covered,” Harvey said.

The Mets’ justification in avoiding Harvey for both openers was that they wanted to honor pitchers who actually contributed last year. While Harvey missed the entire season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Colon led the staff in innings and wins, and deGrom won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Theoretically, lining Harvey up for the second home game instead of the home opener also allows the Mets to draw two big crowds in a row to Citi Field.

“Obviously with Bartolo throwing 200 innings, getting 15 wins is well-deserved of Opening Day,” Harvey said. “And all that Jacob did last year, he obviously deserves Opening Day at home. I’m happy to be throwing in the first series and obviously extremely happy about throwing at home.”

Not that Harvey’s debut will lack juice. The Mets’ third game will pit him opposite Stephen Strasburg, one of the few pitchers in baseball who truly understands the hype surrounding Harvey. Back in April 2013, Harvey outdueled Strasburg in a game at Citi Field, prompting thousands of fans to chant “Harvey’s better!” during one of the more memorable games of his breakout season.

This time, the atmosphere should be just as electrically charged.

“That’s an important series for us, obviously opening up the season,” Harvey said. “Regardless of who we’re facing, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done in Spring Training, and that’s a big series so we’re all excited.”

Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

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Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo

Projecting the Mets’ Opening Day roster, March 16

Update, March 17, 4:48 p.m.

The Mets just made six additional cuts, which are reflected below.

Time to whip out a new version of the projected roster, taking into account Zack Wheeler’s impending Tommy John surgery and other developments.

IMG_2799

Lineup:
CF Juan Lagares
2B Daniel Murphy
3B David Wright
1B Lucas Duda
RF Michael Cuddyer
LF Curtis Granderson
C  Travis d’Arnaud

SS Wilmer Flores

No changes here, particularly considering how nice a spring Lagares is having. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Bench:
C Anthony Recker
OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis
OF John Mayberry, Jr.

INF Ruben Tejada
INF Eric Campbell

Again, let’s just keep moving. This group is pretty static.

Rotation:

RHP Jacob deGrom
LHP Jon Niese

RHP Matt Harvey
RHP Bartolo Colon
RHP Dillon Gee

With Wheeler out for the year, the names here won’t change barring another injury (Sorry, fans of Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Rafael Montero. But the order remains unclear. Expect either deGrom or Niese to start Opening Day, with Harvey sliding into Game 2 or 3. Colon and Gee should round out the rotation.

Bullpen:

RHP Jenrry Mejia (CL)
RHP Jeurys Familia

RHP Vic Black
RHP Carlos Torres
RHP Rafael Montero
LHP Dario Alvarez
RHP Buddy Carlyle

Color me unimpressed enough with Sean Gilmartin’s performance to throw Alvarez in here instead, though there’s a growing chance the Mets fill their lefty need externally. Wheeler’s injury bumps Gee to the rotation, giving Montero an excellent opportunity to land in the bullpen. I like Carlyle’s chances, too, since the Mets may lose him if he doesn’t make the cut. And if Black’s shoulder woes linger, the Mets may even need to add another right-hander from the depths of camp.

Disabled list:

RHP Bobby Parnell, RHP Zack Wheeler, LHP Josh Edgin.

Still in camp:
C Johnny Monell*, C Kevin Plawecki*, INF Brandon Allen*, INF Danny Muno*, INF Matt Reynolds*, OF Alex Castellanos*, OF Matt den Dekker, OF Cesar Puello, RHP Chase Bradford*, RHP Erik Goeddel, RHP Cory Mazzoni, RHP Akeel Morris, RHP Noah Syndergaard, RHP Zack Thornton*, RHP Jon Velasquez*, LHP Sean Gilmartin, LHP Jack Leathersich, LHP Steven Matz, RHP Scott Rice*.

*Denotes non-roster invitee

Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Wheeler has torn UCL; Tommy John surgery probable

Update, 12:39 p.m.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — For the second straight season, the Mets’ rotation will be incomplete.

Starting pitcher Zack Wheeler has been diagnosed with a completely torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, the team announced Monday, making Tommy John surgery inevitable. Though the Mets have not committed to the operation, general manager Sandy Alderson described Wheeler’s situation as “pretty clear-cut,” calling the diagnosis preliminary only because Wheeler has yet to meet with team orthopedist Dr. David Altchek.

Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery is the standard treatment for a torn UCL, requiring an approximate 12-month recovery.

“The diagnosis is not surprising,” Alderson said. “We had been forewarned by the doctors that his elbow was a concern, and that it was going to have to be managed over the course of this season. It wasn’t clear that the ligament was involved at that time, but we understood that we were going to have to manage his medical condition over the course of the season. So when he complained of the elbow pain, it wasn’t a surprise to us.

“When the elbow is involved, anything can happen.”

The news broke as Matt Harvey, who spent the entire 2014 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, prepared to make his third spring start.

“Thanks for everybody’s support and kind words,” Wheeler wrote on Twitter. “It’s greatly appreciated. Long road ahead.”

Wheeler, 24, was 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA in 32 starts last season, putting him in contention for the Mets’ Opening Day start. But his elbow was an issue as far back as last summer, Alderson said, when he first complained of discomfort. The Mets ordered an MRI last September, as Wheeler was putting the finishing touches on a 16-start run that saw him go 8-3 with a 2.71 ERA. Though that test came back clean, Wheeler complained of elbow discomfort again over the winter. A second MRI in January also showed no UCL tear.

Reporting to Spring Training in February as usual, Wheeler complained of elbow discomfort a third time last week, prompting the Mets to scratch him from his Saturday start. At the time, they said it was more due to a blister underneath his right middle fingernail than to anything related to the elbow, with Alderson going as far as to say that Wheeler would not need another MRI. That changed a day later, when the team sent him for one and forwarded the results to Dr. Altchek in New York.

Shortly thereafter, it became clear that Wheeler was destined to become the fifth Mets pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery in the past 20 months, joining Harvey, Bobby Parnell, Jeremy Hefner (twice) and Josh Edgin. Several pitchers with partially torn UCLs have attempted to rehab their injuries instead of undergo surgery, most notably Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka. But rehab is only possible if the UCL is not completely torn, as Wheeler’s is.

“It’s a blow, but at the same time we knew there would be a lot of uncertainty surrounding Zack and his elbow over the course of the season,” Alderson said. “We’re obviously not happy he won’t be with us, but I think if there’s a silver lining, it’s that we now have some certainty. We know that we have a solution for this, that he won’t have to manage the kind of pain that I think he had to manage over the course of last season. Doing that over a career is simply unsustainable.”

To replace Wheeler in the rotation, the Mets will almost certainly turn to Dillon Gee, a longtime starter who had been demoted to bullpen work. But the Mets also have several top prospects ready or close to ready for the Majors, including Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Rafael Montero. They will be considerations early in the season, if not immediately.

Said Alderson: “We’re still digesting the injury to Zack and really have not started to address that issue.”

Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Wheeler satisfied elbow injury is not serious

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Rather than prepare for his originally scheduled Grapefruit League start against the Nationals, Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler spent his Saturday morning downplaying the elbow injury and blister that forced him to the sideline.

“It’s something that I’ve had before and had to deal with,” Wheeler said of his right elbow tendinitis in particular. “It mainly sort of picked up last year, but I’ve had it my whole career. It’s been that way. I’ve dealt with it and stuff. I’m just going day-to-day with it.”

For now, that means a brief period of rest. The Mets treated Wheeler’s discomfort last season with anti-inflammatories and other treatments, but no injections. And Wheeler simply pitched through the pain — finishing 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA in his first full season. His blister is a recurring injury that he has had since high school, and also something he believes he can manage.

“Every pitcher in here pitches through pain at some point,” Wheeler said. “It’s just a matter of dealing with it. … You don’t want to push yourself during Spring Training. The games don’t mean anything here. I’m just trying to get myself right for the season when the games actually do mean something.”

Wheeler plans to rest for a few days, throw a bullpen later this week and make his next scheduled start, as he continues to compete for an Opening Day assignment. Right-hander Tyler Pill took his spot Saturday against the Nationals, in what the Mets anticipate being a one-start hiatus.

Still, the club has reason to be concerned, considering Major League Baseball’s growing history of elbow injuries turning into operations. Over the past 20 months, Mets pitchers Matt Harvey, Bobby Parnell and Jeremy Hefner (twice) have undergone Tommy John surgeries. Reliever Josh Edgin is currently considering an operation as well. Outside the Mets’ clubhouse, Rangers ace Yu Darvish is about to join the growing ranks of top-flight arms headed for the operating table.

“You always have that in the back of your head, but you try not to change anything you’re doing — arm angle, mechanics, that kind of stuff,” Wheeler said. “You just keep doing what you’re doing and trust it.”

Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

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