Duda could be back before season's end

Duda could be back before season's end

NEW YORK -- The Mets remain hopeful, if not optimistic, that first baseman Lucas Duda can return this season after all. Duda recently began swinging a bat for the first time since suffering a setback in his recovery from a stress fracture in his lower back and is scheduled to advance to full batting practice as soon as next week.

If all goes well, he could conceivably return this month or next, even if it's only in a bench role.

"We're working the routine as we would if it were July," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "He either makes it back or he doesn't. How he's used if he does make it back is a whole other issue, but we're proceeding as if it were July or August. We're not trying to speed it up. We're not trying to slow it down, especially given his relapse the last time."

Duda, 30, has been sidelined since May. He came close to starting a rehab assignment in late July before experiencing the setback, which sidelined him for an additional month. Only recently has he begun ramping up his physical activities.

In Duda's absence, James Loney held down first base for a large chunk of the summer. But with Loney scuffling in August, other players have begun receiving reps at the position.

Duda ranks among the Mets' most accomplished sluggers since the start of the 2014 season, batting .247 with 64 homers and an .822 OPS over that stretch.

Rafael Montero is tentatively scheduled to fill in for Jacob deGrom this Tuesday in Cincinnati. Though Montero walked six batters in an Aug. 29 spot start against the Marlins, he did not allow a run over five innings. deGrom is skipping his next start due to inflammation in his forearm.

• The strained flexor muscle that sidelined Zack Wheeler last month has officially ended his season. The Mets have instructed Wheeler, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2015, not to pick up a baseball until he begins gearing up for Spring Training next year.

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.