FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler has a torn elbow ligament, a blow to a team hoping to compete for the playoffs following Matt Harvey's return from Tommy John surgery.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Wheeler has a complete tear, all but guaranteeing the 24-year-old right-hander will need elbow-ligament replacement surgery and miss the 2015 season.
''I feel terrible for Zack, especially the way he finished last year,'' Mets manager Terry Collins said. ''For this to happen at this time, I'm sure he's really down about it. But we're going to have to move on.''
Wheeler had MRIs of his elbow in late September, January and Saturday, and Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said the first two did not show any ligament damage. The team did not restrict Wheeler's throwing program during the first three weeks of spring training, even though there was concern about his elbow.
Until Monday, Mets officials said Wheeler's latest MRI was only precautionary. Wheeler said he would have been able to throw through the pain had it been the regular season.
''He says he could have pitched, so I'm not that concerned about it,'' Collins said Sunday.
Alderson said the team was warned by doctors in January that Wheeler's elbow ''was a concern and was going to have to be managed'' 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 this season,'' Alderson said. ''When he complained of the elbow pain, it wasn't a surprise to us. What prompted the MRI on Saturday was, Zack had complained about the elbow in the past, but the area of pain had increased in size.''
Wheeler had his latest MRI on Saturday in Port St. Lucie. The scan was reviewed Monday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and he was with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. The Mets said Wheeler planned to travel Monday or Tuesday to New York to confirm the diagnosis and discuss with team medical director Dr. David Altchek on how to proceed.
The announcement came one day after the Mets said Josh Edgin, the team's most-established left-handed reliever, will have elbow-ligament replacement surgery this week. The only other left-handed relievers in camp are Sean Gilmartin and three pitchers with minor league contracts - Scott Rice, Dario Alvarez and Jack Leathersich.
Wheeler's injury could end New York's thoughts of trading Dillon Gee for a shortstop or offensive help. Harvey now heads a rotation that includes NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, Jonathon Niese, Bartolo Colon and Gee.
Collins said Gee would replace Wheeler in the rotation. Gee was the Mets' opening-day starter last year but primarily had been working out of the bullpen this spring training. Gee is scheduled to start Thursday against Houston.
''That's why we have him,'' Collins said of Gee. ''He'll be the guy. . Dillon's won a lot of games in the big leagues and he's going to have to step up and fill some big shoes, but he can handle it.''
Wheeler was selected by San Francisco with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft and was traded to New York two years later in the deal that brought outfielder Carlos Beltran to the Giants. He has gone 18-16 since his big league debut in June 2013, exciting the Mets with a fastball that averaged 96 mph last season.
Wheeler made his only spring training appearance March 9, allowing six runs, two hits, two walks and two hit batters in 1 2-3 innings against Miami. He pitched a perfect first, then got in trouble in the second.
Wheeler is among the prized young pitchers the Mets have been trying to rebuild around as they try to end a streak of six straight losing seasons, one shy of the team record.
Harvey, who threw four scoreless innings against the Red Sox on Monday, said the team still can contend for a playoff spot without Wheeler.
''Whoever they put in, we're going to be fine,'' Harvey said. ''Obviously it's a big blow to us to have Zack down, but Dillon Gee has won a lot of games and can step in. ... I think we have enough experience and we can hold our own.''
Harvey, 25, established himself as a big league All-Star before being diagnosed with a torn elbow ligament in August 2013, an injury that caused him to miss last season.
Syndergaard, a 22-year-old right-hander, could make his big league debut this year. He was drafted by Toronto with the 38th overall pick and acquired after the 2012 season in the trade that sent NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays.