Mets righthander Zack Wheeler is intent on making up for years of lost time.
Wheeler was the first piece of what some thought could become a Cy Five rotation. Injuries and ineffectiveness discarded that notion, and it was a major achievement just to get all five in the rotation at the same time. It took until April of this season for that to happen, and then it occurred only twice.
Wheeler, 28, was usually the missing component, though along the way injuries impacted Matt Harvey, who was traded in May to the Reds, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz.
Long story short, Wheeler was sidelined in 2015 and 2016 with a long recovery from Tommy John surgery, had a truncated 2017 season with continuing arm issues and didn’t make the team out of spring training this year.
There’s a lot of fast-forwarding to the present. After deGrom, the major-league leader in earned run average, Wheeler has been the Mets’ most effective pitcher of late. Over his last four starts, he has struck out 26 batters in 27 2⁄3 innings and allowed only six earned runs. He’s 6-6 with a 3.89 ERA.
“He’s got primo stuff,” said Mets catcher Devin Mesoraco, the player obtained from the Reds for Harvey. “Throws a lot of strikes. There’s a lot of swings and misses. Ever since I’ve caught him, he’s been very aggressive.”
Wheeler starts Friday night when the Mets begin a three-game series in Miami against the Marlins.
What’s painful now to Wheeler is recalling all that he missed as months of rehabilitation turned into years. He found out that the typical recovery time from Tommy John surgery did not apply in his case.
“I did everything I possibly could to try and get back anywhere from 14 to 16 months,” he said. “I went to rehab every day, did cardio, threw like I was supposed to program-wise, worked out, did everything I possibly could. And still my body didn’t react, like some people, I guess you could say.”
His frustration only deepened.
“Of course,” he said. “I was supposed to come back in May to June of 2016. And that came and went. And I was stuck down in Florida [doing rehab], these guys were doing well, they ended up making the wild-card game. That was tough to see. The year before they made the World Series and that was tough to see.”
Wheeler was on the disabled list in 2015 when the Mets seemed close to trading him. He went to the extraordinary length of phoning general manager Sandy Alderson and pleading to stay a Met.
“I think I was in a different position then,” he said. “I pretty much let it be known that I wanted to be here.” Wheeler expected the Mets to become longtime contenders, so he wanted to be around for those anticipated good times.
He still believes that and expressed his desire to stay when his name was bandied about before this season’s July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. “I pretty much let it be known that I wanted to be here this time, also,” he said.
The deadline passed and Wheeler remained.
“If it happened, it happened,” Wheeler said. “You can’t control the business side of baseball.”
Wheeler now feels in control of his body, saying, “The injuries were frustrating but at the same time I’m here now and I’m healthy now.”
Zack Wheeler has won four consecutive starts for the first time in his career and shaved his ERA from 4.42 to 3.89. His numbers:
INNINGS 27 2/3