The New York Mets played with split squads on Friday in the Grapefruit League -- with two of their young starters on the mound, making important starts, in different parts of Florida. At Port St. Lucie, RHP Matt Harvey threw three solid innings against the Houston Astros. Harvey, coming back off thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, pitched well overall, allowing only one run on two hits, including a home run to Houston SS Reid Brignac.
Meanwhile, further north against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, RHP Zack Wheeler made his first professional pitching appearance in more than two years, following his March 2015 Tommy John surgery. Wheeler, 26, took an important step in his hopeful return, throwing two innings, allowing only one hit -- a home run to Atlanta's Matt Tuiasosopo. Wheeler's fastball velocity reached as high as 94 mph, and he did mix in several curveballs, include one that was called a third strike against the Braves' Jace Peterson in the bottom of the first. It will be interesting to see where the Mets decide Wheeler will start the season. More and more, a smart and prudent course of action would call for Wheeler to start the season at AAA Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, the Mets could easily control the environment, and enable Wheeler to take his time in building arm strength.
Las Vegas provides options for Wheeler and the Mets. First, Wheeler could progressively build on whatever innings he throws this spring, at his own pace and not with the pressure of results that he would face in New York. Second, he can pitch in predominantly favorable weather, instead of the unpredictable and sometimes cold April weather that normally welcomes the Mets as they move north. And, also important for a team that looks to contend for a National League East title and more, the Mets can conserve some of the innings that he'll be allowed to throw in 2017, likely between 120-150. GM Sandy Alderson and Manager Terry Collins have the luxury of employing RHP Seth Lugo or RHP Robert Gsellman as the team's fifth starter to begin the 2017 campaign. There is no reason to rush Zack Wheeler.
-- Yo! OF Yoenis Cespedes continues to mash the ball this spring. Cespedes hit his 4th home run of the spring in the 7-6 lost to the Astros.
-- Split squad loss, on both ends. The Mets also lost to the Braves, 5-2 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. Following Wheeler's departure, the Braves seized control of the game behind home runs from 2B Brandon Phillips and 3B Adonis Garcia. The Mets' Grapefruit League record fell to 8-7 after Friday's results.
-- Competition for roster spots. IF/OF T.J. Rivera has hit the ball well this spring, and with the uncertainty surrounding Captain David Wright, the Bronx native looks like a good bet to make the Opening Day roster. OF Brandon Nimmo has hit the ball well throughout camp and the early spring schedule; he had a key RBI single for Team Italy on Thursday night in the World Baseball Classic, as the Italians rallied to defeat Mexico, 10-9. In the bullpen, with closer Jeurys Familia likely facing a suspension, the Mets will likely have RHP Addison Reed close, but look for Terry Collins to carry two left handers, Jerry Blevins and Josh Smoker. Smoker may be the beneficiary of a potential Familia suspension, stemming from the allegations and charges of domestic abuse levied against him in October 2016. Although acquitted, MLB is still expected to take disciplinary action prior to the start of the regular season.
World Baseball Classic. It should be an exciting weekend for the United States squad in Miami at Marlins Park. The US will take on Colombia Friday evening, while Venezuela will take on Puerto Rico. The defending champion Dominican Republic team defeated Canada, 9-2, on Thursday night behind a big two-run home run from OF Jose Bautista. The US will play the Dominican Republic team on Saturday night.