By Zach Gewelb
It’s been a long time coming, but New York Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler is making progress as he inches toward returning from his 2015 Tommy John surgery.
Wheeler threw live batting practice Wednesday morning, an important test that needed to be passed as New York plans for his spring debut. The 25-year old righty was pleased with the results of his session, telling reporters that he missed the competitive action after sitting out for so long.
“It felt good to be back out there and face batters,” Wheeler told reporters. “It’s another step closer.”
The Mets are planning to pitch Wheeler in a live game next week, likely March 10, according to reports.
If Wheeler gets through his first outing unscathed, expect him to compete for a spot in the Mets’ crowded rotation. His main competition — Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman — pitched well last season and are further ahead of Wheeler at this point.
Even if Wheeler pitches well and remains healthy this spring, he still may not win a rotation spot. Pitching coach Dan Warthen has previously said that Wheeler will be on a strict innings limit this year, so a bullpen spot at the beginning of the year seems more likely at this point.
The Mets acquired Wheeler in the Carlos Beltran trade with the San Francisco Giants back in 2011. He made his major league debut two years later and pitched a full season in 2014 before undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2015.
Wheeler has an 18-16 career record with a 3.50 ERA in 49 starts, all with New York. He would be a welcome addition to the Mets’ pitching staff this year, no matter the spot.
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe