Phillies’ Wheeler downplays dispute with Mets’ GM

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CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP)Zack Wheeler wants to dial down his little dispute with his former team’s general manager.

The new Philadelphia right-hander has been trading barbs with New York Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen recently, adding even more intrigue after Wheeler left the Mets to sign with the rival Phillies. On Saturday, Wheeler figured there wasn’t much more he needed to add.

”I don’t want to make this go on any further. I don’t think it’s meant to go on any further. We’re two grown-ups here, and we’re battling like little kids, you know what I mean?” Wheeler said. ”I’m happy to be here with this group of guys.”

Wheeler signed a $118 million, five-year contract with Philadelphia this offseason after pitching for the Mets since his debut season in 2013. Wheeler told the New York Post on Thursday that he circled back with the Mets before signing with Philadelphia. He told the Post ”it was basically just crickets.”

”It’s how they roll,” Wheeler told the newspaper.

Van Wagenen responded sharply.

”Our health and performance department, our coaches all contributed and helped him parlay two good half-seasons over the last five years into $118 million,” Van Wagenen told reporters Friday. ”I’m proud of what our group was able to help him accomplish. I’m happy he was rewarded for it. Players deserve to be rewarded when they perform well.”

That put the ball back in Wheeler’s court Saturday. He seemed amused but didn’t do much more to escalate the feud. He even had some kind words for the Mets.

”The training staff was unbelievable. They helped me out a lot,” said Wheeler, who had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and continued to deal with arm and shoulder issues. ”They really set up a good program for me, and I really appreciate those guys. I really appreciate everything the Mets did for me, but I’m here with the Phillies now.”

This episode may be brought up again when the Phillies face the Mets this season – but that matchup was always going to be emotional.

”I don’t think I needed any more motivation,” Wheeler said. ”When you’re going up against a former team or something like that, we were already going to have motivation. I don’t think that gives me any more. It’s kind of small in my mind, what’s going on right now. I think it got blown up a little bit, out of proportion.”

ROTATION OUTLOOK

Wheeler and Aaron Nola are at the top of Philadelphia’s rotation, and after that, there are questions. Jake Arrieta went 8-8 last year with his highest ERA (4.64) since 2013. Zach Eflin went 10-13 with a 4.13 ERA, and Vince Velasquez (4.91) and Nick Pivetta (5.38) had their problems.

Those six pitchers are all right-handed. One lefty option for Philadelphia is 24-year-old Ranger Suarez. Manager Joe Girardi said he could be in the mix for a rotation spot.

Suarez went 6-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 37 relief appearances in 2019.

”We’re building him up as a starter right now,” Girardi said. ”You might see some of our other starters not make starts right away on what you’d call the big field, just so we can get looks at the other guys.”

Spencer Howard, a right-hander ranked as Philadelphia’s No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline, is a non-roster invitee to spring training. Girardi said he tweaked his right knee recently and isn’t throwing off the mound.

”We want to make sure that’s all in place, and it kind of gives us the luxury of making sure that we don’t rush him,” Girardi said. ”He had an MRI. Everything was fine.”

Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister

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