COMMENTARY | The good news for New York Mets starters Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee is that neither is going to be sent down to the minors when top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler finally joins the team later this month.
On the other hand, Wheeler is likely to replace either Hefner or Gee in the Mets' starting rotation, which means one of the two is headed for dreaded long-man duty in one of the National League's worst bullpens.
So, whom should Wheeler replace in the rotation?
"I have no idea who it's going to be. Somebody's got to come out ... I don't worry about it until it comes around time," said Mets manager Terry Collins, according to the New York Daily News.
While Shaun Marcum hasn't pitched well, his $4 million salary nearly guarantees his spot in the rotation. That means the decision comes down to Gee or Hefner, who are each earning just over $500,000 this season.
With the threat of Wheeler's promotion looming, both righties have elevated their games of late.
Hefner has recorded quality starts in three of his last four starts. He picked up his first win of the season with six strong innings against the New York Yankees on May 29. Hefner continues to show marked improvement each time he takes the mound. In Tuesday's start against the Washington Nationals, Hefner allowed just one earned run in seven innings and was robbed of a win when Bobby Parnell blew a save opportunity.
But the Mets are still just 1-10 in games started by Hefner.
Meanwhile, Gee tossed a career-high 12 strikeouts in his best performance of the season against the Yankees on May 30. He followed that up by allowing just one earned run in seven innings against the Nationals on Wednesday night.
For the season, Gee is 4-6 with a 5.20 ERA, but advanced stats show he isn't catching many breaks.
Gee's .356 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is second-worst in the NL and suggests that he's been pitching through tough luck this season. Gee's 4.17 FIP, which measures ERA independent of fielding, shows the Mets' defense isn't doing him any favors.
But Gee knows all about bad luck. He missed the second half of last season after requiring emergency surgery when a blood clot was discovered in his pitching shoulder. After solidifying his spot on the team, Gee is back to fighting for his rotation spot with fellow 27-year-old Jeremy Hefner.
Unlike Gee, Hefner has pitched through good luck this season. His .247 BABIP is slightly ahead of Mets ace Matt Harvey's average and 10th best among right-handed starters in all of baseball.
More important, Hefner has significantly more bullpen experience than Gee. Last season, Hefner made 13 appearances out of the Mets' bullpen and compiled a respectable 4.44 ERA compared to a 5.32 ERA as a starter. Gee hasn't made a relief appearance since the beginning of May, 2011. The most likely scenario is that Hefner's flexibility lands him in the bullpen.
For those reasons, the Mets should keep Dillon Gee in the starting rotation and convert Hefner to a relief pitcher. If Gee falters or another starter gets injured, Hefner will be able to jump into the rotation in a pinch.
For now though, the Mets need to determine whether Gee is a long-term solution in the back end of their starting rotation.
Jon Krouner is a writer, editor and blogger whose work appears in Bleacher Report, Rant Sports, SB Nation, Rotoviz and Football.com. Follow him on Twitter@jkrouner.
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