PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- With a full series of Florida State League games under his belt in his most recent rehab assignment, New York Mets captain David Wright is making progress, both in his health and on the diamond.
Wright, 35, returned to the FSL almost one year to the day last Sunday, traveling three-plus hours to Clearwater, Fla., to play five innings at third base in the St. Lucie Mets' final game of a four-game series against the Threshers.
And time is of the essence if Wright, a seven-time All-Star, plans to return to Citi Field and play for the Mets in 2018.
"They gave me the option, and we knew it was a long drive for five innings, but I said, 'If that's what I need to do, then that's what I need to do,'" Wright said this week from the Mets' Spring Training home complex. "It gave me an extra game, and I was able to get my feet wet and face some good pitching over there. It was worth it."
Wright's timeline over the last two years reads in half-year increments, usually from February to August, then back to Spring Training.
He was diagnosed with a right shoulder impingement in February of 2017, shutting him down from throwing, though he still continued to hit. His return to action last August in the FSL amounted to all of three games with St. Lucie, ending with rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder and back surgery.
This February, Wright said he was making progress, addressing the areas that had required surgeries. However, he wasn't running at all and refrained from baseball activities. The Mets eventually shut him down for two months, and he didn't return to baseball activities until June.
And now, it's go time.
"There's only so much of the rehab process, you've got to check the boxes for being able to run the bases, you've got to check the box for being able [to play] back-to-back," said Wright, who played another five innings when St. Lucie opened a four-game homestand against the Florida Fire Frogs on Monday.
"There's just stuff that during the rehab you do over and over, and it's like, 'OK, well I need to progress, and I just need to test it out.' If my body doesn't hold up, it doesn't hold up. The only way to test it out is to get in game situations where it's not a controlled environment where you've got to move left and right, you've got to swing and miss, you've got to check swing. You've got to do the stuff you just can't practice and see if your body can take it.
"It's been a grind for me just trying to get back into the swing of things. For me, coming off three surgeries, it's not like I can go out there and just concentrate on one thing. I've got to stay on top of my shoulder, which directly affects my neck. And then with my back, it's just always a concern for me."
Wright was tested immediately against Florida in the top of the first inning. With Florida runners on first and second, he fielded a chopper near the bag, made the smart move to race over to tag third for a force out and tossed an awkward throw across the diamond that failed to complete a double play.
"I'd be the first one to tell you my shoulder isn't as strong as it was before my surgery or before I got hurt. Do I think it can be adequate over there? Yeah. There are going to be some plays that give me some trouble like that one, where I don't have the Adrian Beltre cannon on my shoulder that I can throw from any angle and throw 95 [mph] across the diamond," Wright said.
"It's just not going to happen. I've got to make the routine plays and certainly hope that my arm strength continues to get stronger and stronger."
His hitting hasn't yielded results yet, but he faced a pair of hard-throwers -- hurlers who touched 97 mph -- in his first two starts against Clearwater's Mauricio Llovera and Florida's Huascar Ynoa.
"I can sit there and take batting practice for months, which I have, but that doesn't prepare you for 97 or 98 mph fastballs and an 85 mph slider that's breaking 12 to six. I know how lost I felt in Spring Training, and that's with four months off. Now, having 12 months of not facing live pitching to come in and face that … well, my expectations for the first few weeks are very realistic," said Wright, a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner.
In his four games this week, Wright is hitless in 10 at-bats with five strikeouts and two walks. He played six innings Thursday night in St. Lucie's 4-0 loss.
However, there have been moments with the glove when the David Wright from 2007 and 2008 -- the seasons he won the Gold Glove Award -- appears.
He caught a strong but wide throw from St. Lucie right fielder Gene Cone, raced toward the bag and leaped to tag out Florida's Jordan Rodgers, who was attempting to advance from first to third.
It was an athletic play -- one in which Wright immediately bounced up, tossed the ball back to pitcher Gabriel Llanes and dusted himself off. He made another fine play racing down a foul popup that he snared near the St. Lucie bullpen, and he nearly completed his famous barehanded field-and-throw to get a batter on a dribbler to third Thursday night.
"It feels at times like it's an uphill climb just with knowing you have to take care of your shoulder, neck and back all in a day's work, and also prepare for a baseball game and get caught up to the speed of things," he said.
Wright said his plan is to continue playing with St. Lucie, perhaps in a full game or two next week, and just keep progressing.
"I would certainly say I've felt like I've taken some baby steps. I still feel there's a long way to go, both physically and timing and baseball skills wise. But, we got to the point where if I'm going to give it a go this year, you're up against the clock," Wright said.