It has certainly been a long road to recovery for New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler. On Friday, he will finally make his return to the mound.
Wheeler, 26, is set to start for the Mets when they take on the Houston Astros in Port St. Lucie on Friday afternoon. Even though this is just a spring training game, it will be a very significant moment for him.
The last time Wheeler made a start for the Mets was September 25, 2014. In March of 2015, he was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Later that month, he underwent Tommy John surgery to repair the torn ligament. He has spent the last two seasons recovering from the surgery.
Originally, Wheeler was scheduled to return sometime in the middle of the 2016 season. However, he suffered a setback in his rehab program when he was diagnosed with a flexor strain in his right arm. This happened in August. Ultimately, the Mets decided to shut down Wheeler for the rest of the season. They opted to play it safe, even though the flexor strain was considered mild.
It is undoubtedly frustrating for a pitcher to be forced to sit out for two full seasons because of an injury. Wheeler will now finally have the chance to return to the hill. Friday’s start will be his first chance to show the Mets that he is healthy and ready to go for the 2017 season. Earlier in spring training, Mets manager Terry Collins stated that their would be an “open competition” between Wheeler, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman for the fifth starter spot in the rotation. Lugo and Gsellman both pitched well last season while filling in for the injured players in the Mets starting rotation. Wheeler is going to have be impressive over the next few weeks in order to be named the fifth starter.
If Wheeler is able to earn a starting spot in the rotation, it will be interesting to see how he fares. Originally drafted by the San Francisco Giants with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 MLB draft, he was traded to the Mets in exchange for outfielder Carlos Beltran in 2011. He showed plenty of potential before needing to have Tommy John surgery. In 2014, his first full season with the Mets, Wheeler went 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA. He made 32 starts that year and recorded 187 strikeouts in 185.1 innings pitched.
It will be nice for Mets fans to see Wheeler on the mound on the mound once again. We will see how he does in his first start for the team since the surgery.