PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Early last week, Zack Wheeler climbed atop a mound to throw a live batting practice session at the Mets' First Data Field Spring Training complex. A radar gun measured his fastball at 90-93 mph, team staffers later told him. When Wheeler returned to a mound
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Early last week, Zack Wheeler climbed atop a mound to throw a live batting practice session at the Mets' First Data Field Spring Training complex. A radar gun measured his fastball at 90-93 mph, team staffers later told him. When Wheeler returned to a mound Sunday, they told him the ball was coming out of his hand even a hair better than that.
"It feels good when they say that number, to be honest with you," Wheeler said. "But you can't think about it too much. That's what you do. You throw a baseball for a living."
Throwing a baseball for a living may be something Wheeler has not been healthy enough to do with any regularity the past two seasons, but Sunday's batting practice session marked an encouraging milestone for him. Assuming he experiences no setbacks between now and then, Wheeler will start Friday's Grapefruit League game against the Braves -- his first live game action of any kind since August, and his first big league outing since undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2015.
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"I kind of feel like I'm waiting for a setback, but everything is going good," Wheeler said. "I feel good about it. Everything was coming out of my hand nice today. It definitely felt better than last time."
Forgive Wheeler for his prudence. Since having surgery, Wheeler has struggled to stay healthy, suffering setbacks ranging from an undissolved stitch in his throwing elbow to flexor tendon strain in his forearm. Once one of the best prospects in all of baseball, an 11-game winner at age 24, Wheeler has since become the poster child for the Mets' medical issues.
His quest to stick in the Mets' rotation continued Sunday, when he spun curveballs and sliders over the plate for the first time during live batting practice. Wheeler threw more than 30 pitches in total, taking a break halfway through to simulate a half-inning of rest.
"I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent letting it go," Wheeler said. "But I'm 90- to 95-percent effort, breaking off curveballs and sliders. It feels good."
Even if Wheeler does come out of Spring Training healthy, there are no guarantees he will make the Mets' Opening Day roster. Pitching coach Dan Warthen recently estimated a 110-inning cap on Wheeler this season, while also leading the chorus of those who fear the health risk of putting Wheeler in the bullpen. The only alternatives would be to shut Wheeler down early in the summer, or -- more likely -- to start his year in extended spring training.
Those decisions will come in time. For now, the Mets simply need to see a healthy Wheeler on the mound. And Wheeler, who says he feels like he has not played baseball in a decade, must prove to himself that he can again be that pitcher.
"It's another step forward," Wheeler said. "I'm feeling better every time I go out there. Hopefully, it translates over to the game, and I go from there."
• Doctors examined Yoenis Cespedes after he departed Sunday's game due to a tight quadriceps muscle, but the prognosis was nothing more than soreness. Cespedes is day to day.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.