Two years after surgery, Wheeler feels ready

Mets righty in 'open competition' with Gsellman, Lugo for fifth-starter job

Two years after surgery, Wheeler feels ready

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Zack Wheeler is done hoping, done wishing and done expecting a quick fix to his issues.

"I'm not getting my hopes up for one second," Wheeler said Monday at Mets camp, approaching his two-year anniversary of Tommy John surgery. "I hope I'm good. I hope I'm ready. I've done everything that I could. I'll get back out there and pitch, and just be healthy.

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"It is close. But we've been close so many times."

It has indeed been a long, arduous journey for Wheeler, who initially tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in March 2015. The Mets nearly traded Wheeler that summer, as part of the deal that would have sent Wilmer Flores to the Brewers for Carlos Gomez. But they kept him, hoping Wheeler would join them last season.

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Then Wheeler's rehab pace slowed as setbacks undermined him. An undissolved stitch in his elbow required a second surgical procedure. Discomfort in his throwing arm forced him to step away from the mound. Finally, a shutdown ended his season.

Now, following a long winter at home in Georgia, Wheeler expects to be healthy again. But he understands as well as anyone how little is guaranteed.

"To miss last year, he was down," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "And now he's back. … We're all excited that he's back with us, because we were very fortunate with the job that [Robert Gsellman] and [Seth Lugo] did last year when they got called up. To add Zack Wheeler to that mix, that's a pretty good pitching staff."

Even if Wheeler is healthy, Gsellman and Lugo will push him in what Collins called an "open competition" for the Mets' fifth-starter job. While Wheeler boasts the pedigree of a former first-round Draft pick, Gsellman's rookie success -- a 2.42 ERA with 42 strikeouts over his first 44 2/3 innings -- makes him perhaps the favorite on paper. The Mets have also discussed sending Wheeler to the bullpen, where he can log a lighter innings total early in the season.

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Much will depend upon how those three fare starting games this February and March. For Wheeler, simply being part of that competition is exactly what he's missed.

"It hasn't really been fun, to be honest with you," Wheeler said. "I'd rather be out here playing, pitching, doing what I love. But I had a couple setbacks. I'll move on from that."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.