WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Zack Wheeler wore the smile of somebody who could skip the team bus and just ride Cloud 9 back to Port St. Lucie.
In a statement outing Thursday, the fired his fastball mostly in the mph range — hitting 97 on a few occasions — to impress Mets officials over 2 innings against the Nationals. “I just felt a little rusty, but it will come around,” said Wheeler, who allowed two earned runs on three hits and a walk with two strikeouts in the performance. “The pitches were coming out good.
” It was the second exhibition start for Wheeler after missing the last two seasons rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Last week, . But the fastball had additional life Thursday, perhaps a result of shedding the jitters he carried into his first start.
“Last time I was getting dizzy and stuff — I was nervous,” Wheeler said. “It felt like I had never pitched in a game before, but today I was a little more calm. Just moving forward it will get easier every time out.
“Every start out sort of makes me realize that’s behind me, and I am just ready to move on and pitch for these guys during the season and hopefully win some games. ” Bryce Harper homered on a changeup and the Nationals scored another run on Stephen Drew’s RBI double, but the Mets were not focused on the results as much as Wheeler’s velocity and movement on his pitches. And both were more than satisfactory.
“It just tells you he’s back,” manager Terry Collins said. “The biggest worry is that after two years, his command, is he going to be able to bounce back? How much can his arm take, and so far he’s shown that he is back and that is why I’m so happy about the way he threw. ” The Mets have leaned toward keeping Wheeler in extended spring training to begin the season — last month pitching coach Dan Warthen indicated Wheeler could be limited to 125 innings this season — but a club source described the situation as “fluid,” with a performance such as Thursday’s possibly sending a signal that Wheeler wouldn’t have much to gain from the extended spring.
If Wheeler were to begin the season in extended spring training, Robert Gsellman or Seth Lugo would fill his spot in the rotation. Less likely is the possibility of Wheeler beginning the season in the bullpen, but the idea hasn’t been completely ruled out. “It’s honestly up to them what they want to do with me, whatever works,” Wheeler said.
“There are innings limits, or who knows what? We have got a couple of different plans we can go with. I’m not going to get into that, but hopefully I can stay healthy. That is my biggest key this year, just staying healthy.
” Wheeler was asked if he’s physically ready to begin the season in the major leagues if needed. “I’m honestly ready to pitch right now, whether it be bullpen or starter,” he said. “I am ready to go as of right now.
It’s up to them, though, and whatever they say I am fine with. ”.