Posted on August 18, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
It’s been a long and frustrating road back from Tommy John surgery for New York Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler. That road has been filled with setbacks that have derailed his return to the majors, and the latest occurred Wednesday when the Mets announced Wheeler has a mild strain of his flexor muscle. Wheeler will refrain from throwing for two weeks and receive a plasma-rich platelet injection in hopes that the injury will heal quickly. This latest setback puts into serious doubt whether Wheeler will return to the big leagues in 2016 as expected.
Wheeler originally underwent Tommy John in March 2015, and even with the Mets giving him a conservative timeline, they were hoping he’d be back in the big leagues by early July. However, a series of setbacks has continued to push back his return. He underwent surgery in April to remove an undissolved stitch and then experienced elbow pain in June, being diagnosed with nerve agitation.
After finally making his first minor league rehab start on August 6, Wheeler again complained of elbow pain and was sent to see Dr. James Andrews. Andrews has diagnosed Wheeler with a strained flexor muscle and ordered him to be shut down for two weeks. “The good news is that the ligament was intact and no problems there,” Mets assistant GM John Ricco said Wednesday. “The muscle strain was the cause of some of the elbow soreness.”
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Sitting out another two weeks may be what prevents Wheeler from returning to the big leagues at all in 2016, meaning Tommy John surgery would have cost him two full seasons. “The reality is two weeks takes you to the beginning of September,” Ricco said. “So I’m not going to jump to that at this point, but the clock is certainly ticking.” By the time Wheeler is able to return to throwing in two weeks, the minor league season will be all but over, making it difficult for him to pitch in rehab games and prepare himself for a return to the big leagues.
As previously mentioned, the Mets were originally planning on Wheeler being ready to rejoin the team in July. They were particularly anxious to get him back when Matt Harvey was forced to undergo season-ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. Despite Harvey himself having an uneven season, the Mets have struggled to fill that spot in the rotation. Logan Verrett took up the spot initially, but he has posted a 6.45 ERA as a starter this season. Verrett was recently removed and Jon Niese inserted into the rotation. Niese allowed four runs in 4.2 innings on Wednesday, but figures to remain in the rotation for now.
If Wheeler is able to avoid any more setbacks, it remains to be seen if the Mets would allow him to pitch in the majors this year if he doesn’t have any minor league starts under his belt. Such a scenario would be tricky if the Mets remain in contention for a playoff spot until season’s end. The Mets may want to get Wheeler some game action to help ease his mind heading into next year. Of course, Mets manager Terry Collins mentioned Wednesday the possibility of not having Wheeler in 2017 either. “I think you’ve got to certainly prepare yourself for the fact he might be one of those guys that for some reason doesn’t bounce back like you’d hope,” Collins said. “It’s very discouraging to hear today that he’s got to be shut down.”