WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Zack Wheeler insists he is not the type to look over his shoulder at the radar gun. Had he done so Thursday at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, he would have seen, at one point, the scoreboard flashing 97 miles per hour -- the most definitive proof yet that Wheeler may be past Tommy John surgery once and for all.
Wheeler's 97-mph fastball may have been the highlight of his second Grapefruit League outing against the Nationals, which the Mets dropped, 3-1. But it was hardly the only encouraging sign on a day in which his final line -- 2 1/3 innings, two runs, two strikeouts and a walk -- told only a small part of the story. Wheeler also flashed a curveball with depth and a slider with bite, bemoaning only some continued struggles commanding his changeup.
Overall, Wheeler looked very much like a pitcher who could be ready to go in early April, if the Mets decide to give him that chance.
"Every start out makes me realize hey, that's behind me," Wheeler said. "I'm just ready to move on and pitch with these guys during the season, and hopefully win some games."
No longer does the cloud of Tommy John surgery hover directly over Wheeler, who underwent the procedure in March 2015 and has not pitched in a big league game since. Six days after admitting to jitters in his Grapefruit League debut, joking that he felt as if were making his first Major League start, Wheeler went about his work Thursday without issue or incident.
More importantly, his arm recovered fine from that initial outing, feeling lively to him on the mound against the Nationals.
"It just tells you he's back," manager Terry Collins said.
To be sure, there are still things Wheeler must prove, most pressingly his ability to pitch deep into games. That is why the Mets will wait until the end of this month to decide if Wheeler will open the season in the rotation, the bullpen or extended Spring Training, knowing he won't throw much more than 110-125 innings during the regular season.
At the least, Wheeler is making his bid to be part of the starting five.
"It's honestly up to them what they want to do with me," Wheeler said. "I'd like to go out there and pitch. But that's up to them. There are innings limits, so whether they want to use them up early, or late, or who knows what, we've got a couple different plans that we could go with. Hopefully I can stay healthy. That's my biggest key this year."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com 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.