MIAMI -- As Zack Wheeler progresses through his rehab, the itch to return grows ever stronger. Recovering from Tommy John surgery can be tedious, a never-ending sequence of drills and exercises. By the time a pitcher reaches the point Wheeler is at now, 15 months removed from surgery, he is a wild animal straining at his leash.
But Wheeler, who made the two-hour drive down from Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Friday to visit his teammates, must wait a bit longer. The Mets are now penciling in Wheeler's return for just after the All-Star break, a full 16 months after Tommy John surgery.
"I'm happy," Wheeler said. "It's sneaking up on me. It's getting here quick and fast. Every time I'm throwing a bullpen, I'm getting my pitch count up."
The Mets had initially scheduled Wheeler for a July 1 return, but a minor second procedure to remove an undissolved stitch from his throwing arm erased much of the wiggle room in Wheeler's schedule. The Mets are now wary of having him return in early July, only to then rest for an extended period during the break. They consider a mid-July return more fluid.
For now, Wheeler continues to build up his pitch count to make that timetable possible. He expects to throw 30 pitches off a mound in front of Mets coaches on Saturday, and he will soon begin incorporating curveballs and sliders into his repertoire. A Minor League rehab stint will follow eventually, though manager Terry Collins cautioned "that's still a ways off."
Even so, the payoff is looming for Wheeler, who went 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA in his only full season in 2014. Still just 26, Wheeler could provide a significant boost to the Mets' rotation later this summer.
"We're looking at a certain time, but it's really how I feel," Wheeler said. "It could be earlier. It could be sooner. We're just going off of how I feel."
• Catcher Travis d'Arnaud, who has been on the disabled list since April 26 with a strained right rotator cuff, could begin a Minor League rehab assignment as soon as this weekend. But d'Arnaud would appear in those Florida State League games as a designated hitter. The Mets still do not have a concrete timetable as to when he will begin throwing. Kevin Plawecki and Rene Rivera have split catching duties in d'Arnaud's absence.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.