At a little ballpark 1,237 miles away from Citi Field, David Wright began a journey on Tuesday night that he hopes will lead him back to the big leagues for the first time in more than a year.
Batting third as the designated hitter, Wright went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts while playing for Class-A St. Lucie, the beginning of a rehab assignment that represents his first game action since spring training.
Wright, who could possibly return to the majors as a pinch hitter at some point this season, according to manager Terry Collins, went 0-for-4 in St. Lucie’s loss to the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
“Still quite a bit to go to get to where I want to be, but certainly a good first step,” Wright told SNY. “Any time you get a chance to step between the white lines to play some baseball, get some at-bats, it was a lot of fun.”
Said Mets manager Terry Collins before Wright’s game. “I’m just excited to think that this guy’s back on the field. And that he possibly could put this uniform on again and step in the batter’s box here in Citi Field. That’s a pretty cool thought.”
For most, a minor-league rehab is just another mundane task on the way back from injury. But for Wright, it’s a major hurdle cleared as he works his way back from the aftereffects of neck surgery and the chronic back condition spinal stenosis.
“This is a huge step for him,” Collins said of Wright, who has not appeared in a big-league game since May 27, 2016.
Collins opened the door for Wright to hasten a return this season. Though the Mets prefer to have the third baseman ready to play defense, it doesn’t appear to be a requirement. Even without the designated hitter in the National League, Collins envisioned a scenario in which Wright could function as a pinch hitter.
Said Collins: “There’s certainly a scenario where we don’t have to worry about him playing defense.”
It’s a concession that makes a path to the big leagues more realistic, especially because throwing had proven to be a major problem for Wright dating to spring training.
“I’ve said from Day 1 that my goal would be certainly to make it back to the big club this season,” Wright said, “but at this point, [I’m] just looking for baby steps for my health and looking to get better and better.”
The Mets began the night 54-69, 15 games under the .500 mark for the first time since September of 2013. Injuries to core players ravaged their roster, though the Mets could get a few of them back before season’s end, an encouraging sign as they begin preparations for 2018.
Closer Jeurys Familia could rejoin the Mets by this weekend in Washington, provided that he emerges from his back-to-back appearances with no problems. He worked a perfect inning for Class-A Brooklyn on Tuesday and is slated to pitch again on Wednesday.
Pitching in consecutive games is the last major hurdle for Familia to clear in his rehab from surgery to remove a blood clot, which has sidelined him since May 10.
Matt Harvey is through three rehab games in his bid to come back from a stress injury to his shoulder that has kept him out since June. Once he reaches 80-85 pitches, he could be promoted to the big leagues. He threw 54 pitches in his last outing.
“We’re looking at early September to where he can get in a game here, and we will have ample backups to not have to worry about him going 100 pitches,” Collins said. “If he can get to 80 in his next start, I think that will make a big difference.”
Even Noah Syndergaard has approached a major step forward in his rehab. The righthander is scheduled to throw live batting practice on Wednesday, a precursor to a minor-league rehab assignment. Like Harvey, the Mets would consider a promotion once he reaches the 80-85 pitch range.
Syndergaard hasn’t pitched since April with a partially torn lat injury.
But the biggest surprise would be Wright, whose mindset throughout his grueling absence has been geared toward playing again. The road has been bumpy.
But after spending time with specialists in California, Wright began light baseball activities this month. He has since graduated to taking grounders and throwing — even though the Mets may make defense optional.
“That’s on the table,” Collins said. “But that will all be determined on how David approaches everything right now. I just think this is exciting to think that going through what he’s had to go through the last year and a half that he’s going to attempt it. So, we’ll just see how it comes out.”