Zack Wheeler threw 30 pitches for Mets staff Friday in Miami, getting a reprieve from rehab in Matt Harvey’s hated Port St. Lucie, at least for a day. Still, Wheeler is far from returning to the big leagues, which begs the questions — have the Mets been too cautious with him?
Zack Wheeler had his Tommy John surgery on March 24, 2015. It used to be that 12 months was the accepted recovery time, so Wheeler could have been ready by Opening Day. Except the Mets decided 15 months was required, putting him back in the majors just before the All-Star break. A couple of setbacks forced him to miss that date, and now we are looking at a likely early September return, following a 30-day minor league assignment. Which means Wheeler will miss nearly two full seasons.
“It’s frustrating seeing those guys get out and go at 12 months and I’m still sort of sticking around way behind them,” Wheeler said, according to ESPN New York.
Now, every player is different. Even Wheeler admits, “Some guys go fast. Some guys go slow.” But one must ask why the Mets started with a 15-month timetable in the first place. Why not shoot for 12 and see what happens? The unforeseen setbacks cost Wheeler an extra month, but if the rehab had been sped up initially, maybe the setbacks would have happened sooner (or not at all), and he would be pitching by now.
Jose Fernandez threw his last game before his surgery on May 9, 2014 and was back in the majors by July 2 2015. Billy Wagner came back an astonishing 11 months after his procedure. Harvey had his surgery in October 2013 and talked about maybe coming back the following September, following Wagner’s example. But the Mets would not even entertain the thought.
It is always smart to be cautious with fragile young pitching arms, but there is being too cautious, and I think the Mets are falling into this category with this 15-month schedule. An athlete only has a finite number of years to compete, and a team should not take that away from him because it is being overly cautious. Don’t forget, babying pitchers could be what is leading to all of these arm issues in the first place. Perhaps the Mets are just exacerbating the problem.