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Wheeler happy to be healthy after long layoff

In first start since '15, Mets righty hits 94 mph in strong two-inning outing
MLB.com @mlbbowman

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Zack Wheeler made his much-anticipated Grapefruit League debut Friday afternoon at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex, he wanted to prove he was physically healthy. But after missing the past two seasons because of multiple arm issues, the Mets hurler also needed to soothe his psyche.

"I was kind of nervous about just getting big league guys out," Wheeler said. "I didn't know if I could still do it. It's been two years. It just felt good to get out there and compete again."

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Zack Wheeler made his much-anticipated Grapefruit League debut Friday afternoon at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex, he wanted to prove he was physically healthy. But after missing the past two seasons because of multiple arm issues, the Mets hurler also needed to soothe his psyche.

"I was kind of nervous about just getting big league guys out," Wheeler said. "I didn't know if I could still do it. It's been two years. It just felt good to get out there and compete again."

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Wheeler certainly had reason to be pleased after allowing one run and two hits over two innings during Friday's 5-2 split-squad loss to the Braves. The 26-year-old right-hander found a feel for his curveball, popped the mitt with a couple of 94-mph fastballs, and most importantly, walked away with that sense of satisfaction that has eluded him since he underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2015.

Regardless of the results, this was a good step for Wheeler, who has frequently battled frustration over the past two years. While attempting to return from the Tommy John procedure last year, he underwent another surgery to remove an undissolved stitch last year. The months that followed were plagued by elbow and forearm issues, which led to another wasted summer.

"As long as I came out of this healthy today, that was my No. 1 goal," Wheeler said. "I've been going through this for two years now, so whatever happened, happened. I got a strikeout and gave up a home run. All of that really doesn't matter right now. I'm just glad I'm healthy right now."

Wheeler gained an immediate confidence boost when he began his outing by getting Jace Peterson to look at a curveball that crossed the plate for a third strike.

"It's nice to have my curveball back because I haven't really had it the last couple [bullpen sessions] I've had," Wheeler said. "I knew that would come. Once I got back in the game, I didn't think twice about it. He called it and I threw it. It felt good."

Wheeler retired five of the first six batters he faced before allowing Matt Tuiasosopo to hit a solo homer with two outs in the second inning. It was Tuiasosopo's third homer in as many plate appearances dating back to Thursday.

As Wheeler moves forward, the Mets will get a better sense for how they want him to enter a season within which he will be restricted by an innings limit. But instead of worrying about whether he'll be used as a starter in the Minors or a big league reliever, the pitcher will simply attempt to build on this debut, in which he proved he still has the stuff to retire Major Leaguers.

"Overall, I'm happy with it," Wheeler said. "I just wanted to go out there get my work in and come out of it healthy. That's what happened."

Mark Bowman has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001.

New York Mets, Zack Wheeler