PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — After 17 months of rehab, setbacks and more rehab in his return from Tommy John surgery, Zack Wheeler returned to the mound and threw 17 pitches for the Class A St. Lucie Mets on Saturday night before a rain delay ended his start early.
The 26-year-old held the Bradenton Marauders hitless during the first inning, allowing an unearned run and a walk and inducing two flyouts and a groundout. The leadoff batter, Tito Polo, walked and moved to third when a pickoff throw from catcher Tomas Nido went astray. Polo then scored on Kevin Kramer’s groundout to short.
Wheeler was about halfway short of his scheduled pitch count and would have pitched in the second inning if not for a rain delay in the bottom of the first. Another Mets pitcher on a rehab assignment, Jim Henderson, threw a scoreless second inning.
Wheeler, who had surgery in March 2015 and originally was expected back around the All-Star break this season, said he was able to throw his two-seam and four-seam fastballs, changeup and curveball.
“It felt good, you know. It’s a little different getting in an actual game, stretching it out a little bit,” Wheeler said afterward. “It’s a little different once you get into a game and the adrenaline’s going a little bit more, so it was good to actually get out there and face live hitters in an actual game situation.”
The righthander said he was happy with his command. He threw 11 of his 17 pitches for strikes.
“It was good for the most part,” Wheeler said. “I was happy with it. Got the curveball, kept it down, change was where I wanted it. So everything was good.”
Wheeler has a 3.50 ERA and 271 strikeouts in 285 1⁄3 innings in his career, and his return to the Mets could be the spark the team needs.
Wheeler presumably would take Logan Verrett’s spot in the rotation if he makes it back this season. Verrett took over for Matt Harvey after he had season-ending surgery in July to address thoracic outlet syndrome.
Asked what his next step would be, Wheeler replied, “I really don’t know yet.”