PORT ST. LUCIE — Zack Wheeler has already hit a pothole in his attempt to rejoin the Mets, after nearly two years of rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The righty had “tenderness” in his elbow following a recent throwing session, according to pitching coach Dan Warthen, but has not suffered a setback.
A checkup indicated Wheeler likely has scar tissue in the joint. Wheeler is expected to play catch Thursday to test the elbow and then throw from the bullpen the following day if there is no discomfort. “We’re not going to push it because we want to see this kid healthy — and once we get healthy, we want him to stay healthy — so we’ll have kid gloves with him,” Warthen said Wednesday.
Another club official said Wheeler’s discomfort likely stems from exerting himself for the first time since last August, when he was shut down in his rehab after a series of setbacks. The Mets face a dilemma in how to use Wheeler, who is facing a cap in the range for this season, according to Warthen. Team brass is hesitant to use Wheeler from the bullpen, but also doesn’t want to face a situation in which the pitcher needs to be shut down after the break because he’s reached his innings cap.
“A number of us would like to see him go out there every fifth day for 25 starts and put that extra starter in there once a month, limit [Wheeler] to five innings, and that puts him for 125 [innings] so we have enough pitches in September if we need him,” Warthen said. “Then possibly October and then you can stretch it a little bit from there, but making sure it stays and now he understands that if we say it, now it has to go that way. Five innings would be the max if we had to make him a starter.
” And there seems to be concern over whether Wheeler could handle the mental grind of the bullpen. “I think it would be difficult for him to go out there as a reliever,” Warthen said. “Because if he didn’t have success, I think it would be difficult doing something that he has never done before and having to come back.