By Ed Coleman
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (WFAN) — There were rain-shortened activities for the Mets on Wednesday, and more inclement weather might hinder them Thursday as well as they creep closer to their first exhibition game Friday against the Red Sox in Fort Myers.
But Wednesday was a significant day and a big step forward for one of the Mets’ starting pitchers, the one they’ve been missing for the last two seasons — Zack Wheeler.
The right-hander threw another bullpen session, and manager Terry Collins liked what he saw.
“Best I’ve seen him throw down here,” Collins said. “Ball came out really well today. … I’m real excited, hopefully, to see how he feels tomorrow. But it was pretty impressive. He threw some breaking balls today for the first time.”
Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen are holding the starting rotation back until March 4 or 5, but the manager feels that if Wheeler, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2015, keeps this up, he can slot in with the other regulars right around that time.
“He’ll be in some Grapefruit League games, no question,” Collins said. “Now I think we’re going to be careful when that starts. There’s that process of three sides with 25 to 30 pitches, then a couple of batting-practice sessions, then you’re ready to go in a game. That’s kind of what we’ve done in the past. So we’ll probably stick with that plan. I’m hoping that somewhere around that day off (March 7), he’s ready to go.”
There was mild concern in Port St. Lucie last Wednesday when Wheeler experienced “tenderness” in his pitching elbow after his first official bullpen session of the spring. A physical exam, however, revealed no new problems, and the tenderness might have been related to scar tissue.
There has been some talk that Wheeler could end up in the bullpen. But Collins has said the Mets are preparing him as though he will be a starter, with a reliever’s job being a Plan B.
“We aren’t sure how many innings he’s going to be able to pitch,” Collins said last week. “So do you burn those innings early, or do you burn those innings late? And that’s certainly a discussion we will have as we go through spring training.”
The Mets expected Wheeler to return midway through last season, but he suffered a setback after he made his first rehab appearance for the Class-A St. Lucie Mets in August.
In 2014, Wheeler was 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA. In 185 1/3 innings, he struck out 187 batters and walked 79.