PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - The Mets in recent days have faced mounting criticism for their handling of Zack Wheeler, who last season shouldered one of the most demanding workloads of any young pitcher in baseball.
But the injured pitcher's agent Wednesday absolved the organization of any wrongdoing, one day after Mets general manager Sandy Alderson defended his team's approach.
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"Listen, I'd be the first one to call an organization out if I didn't believe that they had treated my player fairly," said B.B. Abbott, Wheeler's agent. "And that just did not happen here."
Wheeler, 24, is expected to undergo Tommy John surgery after an MRI exam on Saturday revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
In the days since, details have trickled out about pain that plagued Wheeler's elbow for most of last season, a condition that Alderson labeled as chronic. Given that intermittent pain -- a product of what the team called tendinitis -- the Mets have been questioned for piling on the work.
In his first full season, Wheeler threw the second-most pitches among players who had turned 24 as of July 1, trailing only Madison Bumgarner.
But Abbott called the elbow pain and -- subsequent torn ligament -- "a bad coincidence." At no point, the agent insisted, did Wheeler take the mound with structural damage in his elbow.
"In my mind, there is no doubt that this is not an issue of abuse," Abbott said. "Now, could workload have contributed to the UCL tear? Sure . . . Was it the workload from last season? Who knows? . . . Workload is always a contributing factor to a UCL tear. But to say that his workload last year caused it? That's not fair."
As the Mets have maintained, Abbott said more than one MRI exam showed no structural damage. Those results, Abbott said, were confirmed by independent orthopedic surgeons. Those same doctors, Abbott said, also greenlighted Wheeler to keep pitching.
The situation, Abbott said, had been one of "tolerable pain maintenance."
"For Zack, if he said, 'Man, this pain is just too much for me to handle,' then he would have been shut down immediately," Abbott said. "But pitching with pain did not indicate that it was going to impact the UCL."
Tests in September revealed a mass -- it remains unclear whether it was a bone spur or perhaps a calcium deposit -- that had contributed to the tendinitis. But even then, doctors assured Wheeler that the mass was not in a position where it could cause a ligament injury.
"It's been implied that there was something structurally wrong with Zack's UCL and therefore the workload was not advisable," Abbott said. "And those two issues were not interlinked at all. There was nothing wrong with Zack's UCL structurally and no one ever gave us that indication because it wasn't true."
Now, Wheeler must decide who will perform surgery on his elbow. He visited Wednesday with Mets surgeon Dr. David Altchek in New York. But Wheeler's MRI exam has also been sent to Dr. James Andrews.