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Zack Wheeler inches closer to return from Tommy John surgery

The righty is throwing again, but a return is still far off.

MLB: Miami Marlins at New York Mets Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Mets’ patience is being tested regarding Zack Wheeler’s recovery from Tommy John surgery. Wheeler threw a 30-pitch bullpen session on Friday that reportedly included changeups and breaking balls in addition to fastballs, representing the first of a multitude of milestones Wheeler must complete before the Mets will feel comfortable inserting him into an injury-stricken starting rotation.

Next on the checklist for Wheeler will be to pitch against live batters. According to Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen, once the 26-year-old has done that successfully, he would make his first rehab start 10 days later. Only after several successive rehab starts without incident will Wheeler be deemed fit to rejoin the big club.

With Matt Harvey already shut down for the remainder of the season with surgery of his own and Steven Matz’s health also in question, for the Mets, Wheeler’s return cannot come soon enough. Originally, the right-hander’s return was estimated for this month’s All-Star break. A couple of frustrating setbacks, most recently a nerve irritation requiring a cortisone shot, have delayed the initial timetable.

USA Baseball advises that a typical Tommy John surgery recovery takes between 12 and 16 months, not just for big leaguers with top-notch doctors and training staffs, but for baseball players at any level. Wheeler is around the 16-month mark since undergoing the procedure.

Whether the Mets opt to trade for a starting pitcher by the July 31 nonwaiver deadline will reveal what confidence the club has in Wheeler’s ability to contribute to the rotation this season. Regardless, for both club and player, the waiting game persists.