By Rich Mancuso/Sports Editor
Zack Wheeler anticipated his return to the mound and it took a span of three years after a slow comeback from Tommy John Surgery. So there he was on the mound again at Citi Field Friday night and after an auspicious first inning there was an implosion. However look at the five runs and a home run ball as a minor setback.
Because Wheeler worked too hard in working his way back this should not be considered a failure. There will be more setbacks on the mound in the long run and that is expected and the command on his breaking pitches need more work.
The right hander admitted he needs to fix the flaws in this comeback.
And there is that confidence. The fastball had velocity, and a reputed NL scout watching up close said there should be no concern. It’s a matter of Wheeler and the improvement of the movement and that is mostly associated with the secondary pitches that will get better with the next start.
You can take that to the bank, because Zack Wheeler is every reason to believe more that the Mets got a live arm when he came to New York from San Francisco for Carlos Beltran. That transaction seems like many years ago, and the lone reason being that we haven’t seen Wheeler as compared to Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz.
Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo have had more of an impact with this young Mets pitching staff. But the unfortunate part of having a live arm is the ramifications of this common thing known as Tommy John Surgery.
“You made some quality pitches,” said manager Terry Collins to his comeback pitcher. “OK, you made some mistakes and he got hurt by them, but you’re going to in this league. But it’s the first step in a long road back and what this kid’s gone through in the last two years, I’m just glad he’s back out there.”
Exactly, the long road back and if this comeback works up to par, well the Mets are that much stronger on the mound, and more so needed with the injuries to Matz and Lugo. One less issue for the manager is the result of a strong comeback from Wheeler.
That didn’t happen Friday night, a cold one at that. And Wheeler did admit his flaws had nothing to do with the conditions that were not fit for baseball or for a pitcher on the comeback trail that came with expectations.
Said Wheeler, “Honestly, I thought I would have more nerves and jitters but I didn’t. I had a lot of adrenaline going in that first inning. I sort of just fell off afterwards when it was time to come and throw your offspeed pitches.”
And that may take more time, getting the offspeed pitches to work. The fastball in that A inning was 93, 95, and one at 97. That said, Zack Wheeler was back and it appeared to be so. When the corrections are made, perhaps in the next few starts, then the Mets can say they have that pitching depth with his return.
So before one can say that Wheeler is done, think about how he impressed with a debut at Atlanta in June of 2013. He became the third pitcher in team history to earn a victory while throwing 6.0 or more shutout innings in his major league debut.
That was the beginning and then a few years later the lovely arm went dead
His catcher, Rene Rivera said, “You want to get back. It’s a very huge step for him to step on a big league mound again. And then Rivera said, “He will be fine.”
And that is the defining word, because Zack Wheeler will be fine. That home run ball to Christian Yelich in the third inning that went for two runs, that set the tone for the rest of the evening in the Mets 7-2 loss to the Marlins. The Mets bats are off to a slow start with the exception of a Yoenis Cespedes home run that went for a run in the eighth inning.
The pitching of Zack Wheeler is not a concern. This was a minor setback in the comeback and all systems are go because he will be fine with some more time.
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