NEW YORK (AP) — As weeks of rehabilitation turned into months and then years, Zack Wheeler kept thinking about what his return from Tommy John surgery would be like.
Fantasy didn’t translate into reality.
”Absolutely not,” Wheeler said after lasting just four innings in his first big league game in three years. ”I wanted to come out here and dominate today, just sort of put my foot down that I’m back and I belong here.”
Derek Dietrich hit a go-ahead, two-run triple in a three-run second inning and Christian Yelich had a two-run homer in the third, powering the Miami Marlins over the New York Mets 7-2 on Friday night.
Wheeler (0-1) allowed five runs, six hits and one walk with four strikeouts , throwing 54 of 80 pitches for strikes on a raw night with the temperature in the 40s. When the 26-year-old right-hander came out of the game, Mets manager Terry Collins tried to reinforce the night’s positives.
”You made some quality pitches,” the manager recalled telling him. ”OK, you made some mistakes and he got hurt by them, but you’re going to in this league. But it’s the first step in a long road back and what this kid’s gone through in the last two years, I’m just glad he’s back out there.”
Wheeler soaked in the scene when he walked in from the bullpen after his warmup, and pitching coach Dan Warthen tried to lighten the mood with jokes, just like he did when Wheeler established himself with the Mets in 2013 and ’14.
He had gone 924 days between starts, losing at Washington on Sept. 25, 2014, in his previous big league outing. Among the Mets’ heralded young starters, injured his elbow pitching against Miami in a spring training game the following March 9 and had surgery 16 days later to repair a torn right ulnar collateral ligament.
Wheeler returned last summer and threw 17 pitches over one inning in a rain-shortened start on Aug. 6 for Class A St. Lucie, then complained of elbow discomfort and didn’t pitch again. Amped up for his return, he reached 95-98 mph on the radar readings in the first two innings, then dropped to 93-94 mph in the third.
”Honestly, I thought I would have more nerves and jitters but I didn’t. I had a lot of adrenaline going in that first inning,” he said. ”I sort of just fell off afterwards when it was time to come and throw your offspeed pitches.”
Working on the first base edge of the pitching rubber, Wheeler worked a 1-2-3 first and retired Giancarlo Stanton leading off the second on a deep fly to left into a 22 mph wind.
He walked Justin Bour, Marcell Ozuna reached on a soft single and Dietrich tripled off the base of the center field wall for a 2-1 lead. Adeiny Hechavarria followed with an RBI groundout. Yelich homered on an offspeed pitch in the fourth, driving a slider off the right-field foul pole, his fourth straight game at Citi Field with a home run.
”You want to get back. You want feel like you belong in the big leagues and you can pitch, and I think it was a huge step for him to step on a big league mound again,” catcher Rene Rivera said of Wheeler. ”He will be fine.”
Chen gave up one run and seven hits in six innings with five strikeouts and one walk. He reached on an infield single in the fourth, ending an 0-for-51 slump at the start of his career, the fourth-longest for players who debuted in 1900 or later, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
”I think I was more happy about the hit than the win,” Chen said through a translator.
With only a few hundred fans remaining, Yoenis Cespedes hit his first home run of the season in the eighth, a drive to left off Nick Wittgren.
New York said after the game it is bringing up RHP Paul Sewald from the minors. The clear a roster spot, the Mets designated infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly for assignment.
New York completes the first turn of its rotation Saturday when RHP Robert Gsellman starts against Adam Conley, the third straight left-handed starter to face the Mets.
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