Zack Wheeler strains muscle in side

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- New York Mets top prospect Zack Wheeler admitted he was "definitely" looking forward to facing the Cardinals' Carlos Beltran for the first time, since the players were swapped in a July 28, 2011, trade.

A pregame introduction with no in-game faceoff will have to suffice for now.

Wheeler was scratched Wednesday from his first career Grapefruit League start with a mild strain of an oblique muscle on his right side, general manager Sandy Alderson announced before the game.

Wheeler, 22, suffered the injury swinging a bat in the cage pregame. The right-hander described the oblique muscle as feeling "a little stiff" and "nothing serious" and suggested he quickly would return to action.

Manager Terry Collins told ESPNNewYork.com Thursday that Wheeler's injury is "not very bad." The youngster may miss only about a week.

"I'd rather be out one start than two months and be behind the eight-ball when I do come back," Wheeler said. "... Early in the spring you don't want to risk anything. We have a month, or a month and a half, left."

Beltran had made the trip to Tradition Field with St. Louis and was slated to bat second. Before the game, according to Wheeler, Mets trainer Ray Ramirez giggled as he introduced the players swapped two summers ago in a deal between the Mets and San Francisco Giants.

"Just a little hello," Wheeler labeled the subsequent exchange with Beltran.

Said Wheeler: "It was kind of cool to meet the guy you were traded for."

Wheeler, widely regarded as one of baseball's top prospects, likely is ticketed for Triple-A Las Vegas to open the season. Still, he has taken the mindset in camp of trying to make the Mets' rotation.

"I'm trying to win a spot, like I said from day one," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said he had not previously experienced an oblique injury in his career. He added that he had not felt this issue before Wednesday's batting-cage activity.

"It wasn't on a certain swing or anything," Wheeler said. "I came out and it was a little stiff. I don't want to risk a bigger injury and be out longer."

Said Alderson: "It's mostly precautionary at this point. He tried to throw and didn't experience any problem, but he was sore to the touch, so we're going to back him off."

Alderson said it is not unusual for pitchers to hit in a cage.

"Our pitchers do hit," Alderson said. "It's something I'll look into a little bit further, but those things happen. He was in the cage. He was swinging the bat. It happens. That's the nature of things."

Alderson did not sound alarmed. The GM described Wheeler being scratched as "a lot more disappointing for the people who were going to watch him on TV back in New York."