Zack Wheeler’s Journey Back to the Mound

Few things are more frustrating than the wait time between the moment an injury happens and getting back to full health. For the Mets’ Zack Wheeler, that time will hopefully fly by until his predicted July comeback.

It might come as a surprise to some that the Mets have fire-power in the bullpen with three pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery: Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz. Prominent pitching leaders on the team, Harvey had the surgery in 2013 and deGrom and Matz went under the knife in 2010. Although they all forged separate journeys they shared the same end goal — to return to the mound stronger and better than ever. Harvey had deGrom at the big-league level to look to for motivation in his recovery, luckily for Wheeler, he will have triple the motivation, as Matz is now in the projected starting rotation. The Mets have done an excellent job handling the surgeries and rehab efforts of their young pitchers, with hardly a bump in the road, save for Harvey’s innings limit snafu down the stretch last season. Agent-fueled innings controversy aside, Harvey was better than ever.

Motivation is the least of Wheeler’s problems. The amount of effort Wheeler is putting into this recovery should set him up for a solid comeback. Keep in mind, of all the young aces on the Mets’ roster, Wheeler was seen as having the most upside.

While working off the field in the weight room and building back up physical strength is important, perhaps most imperative is the reconstruction of Wheeler’s pitching mechanics. His entire motion will need to be  and relearned– countless hours of practice to correct years of muscle memory. While the road to recovery is always grueling, Wheeler, who currently sits at a 3.50 ERA with 271 strikeouts in 285.1 innings, seems up for the challenge. Often times after TJ surgery, pitchers end up throwing harder than they did before, not because of the surgery but because of the intense effort they make during rehabilitation. If Wheeler’s spirit is any indication of his effort, then he’s right on track to making a strong comeback. Last July, amidst trade discussions, the phone call Wheeler made to Mets general manager Sandy Alderson expressing his desire to remain on the Mets ultimately translates to his drive to get back on the mound at Citi Field.

Coming off a World Series appearance, 2016 could shape up to be a big year for the Mets with even bigger expectations to meet. With the offensive power of Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright, Lucas Duda, Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson, the Mets should be able to score enough runs to back up their pitching staff. If Harvey, deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Wheeler can rise to the occasion then the 2016 season should be a resounding reminder of the powerhouse team the Mets have now become.

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