PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The Mets demoted starter Zack Wheeler to Class AAA Las Vegas on Saturday after a weak spring training in which he surrendered 22 hits and nine earned runs over 10 innings.
“I really haven’t proved myself this spring,” Wheeler, a right-hander, said. “I saw it coming, but I was hoping that it wouldn’t.”
Wheeler’s demotion meant another delay in the arrival of the Mets’ long-anticipated big-five rotation. The four others — Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz — will be joined in the season-opening rotation by the right-hander Seth Lugo. He will be the fifth starter while the left-hander Jason Vargas recovers from surgery on a broken bone in his nonthrowing hand. Vargas, who was injured last week, may miss a start or two.
Wheeler appeared to have a shot at filling in for Vargas, but he allowed five runs on 58 pitches over two innings in his final spring appearance on Thursday.
Wheeler, 27, was a critical piece of the Mets’ rotations in 2013 and ’14, but Tommy John surgery on his elbow forced him to miss the next two seasons. He returned last season, but was again undermined by injuries and finished with a 5.21 earned run average.
Dave Eiland, the Mets’ pitching coach, said Wheeler needed to adopt an attacking mentality on the mound and to reach the point where he could reliably pitch every five days.
“It’s on him,” Eiland said. “You can only do so much for players. They have to go get it done. It’s not about potential or what you’re capable of doing; it’s the end result.”
The Mets have all but solidified their opening day roster. Robert Gsellman and Jacob Rhame are expected to earn the final spots in the bullpen.
Even though the outfielder Michael Conforto may beat his target return date of May 1 from shoulder surgery, he was still likely to begin the season on the disabled list, according to Mets Manager Mickey Callaway. That has created an opening for the utility man Phillip Evans to crack the opening day roster.