NEW YORK — The most memorable of New York Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler’s 49 big league starts came against the Miami Marlins on June 19, 2014, when he authored his only career complete game and shutout at Marlins Park.
The Marlins will also be the opponent Friday night, when Wheeler’s 50th start likely becomes his new most unforgettable one.
Wheeler will make his return from Tommy John surgery when he takes the mound against the Marlins in the opener of a three-game series at Citi Field.
It will be the first major league start for Wheeler since Sept. 25, 2014 — a span of 924 days. Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery on March 24, 2015, and became the forgotten member of the Mets’ vaunted young rotation in 2016 as he encountered several stops and starts in his rehab and was limited to just one inning in a minor league appearance.
The Mets didn’t plan for Wheeler to break camp with the big league team this spring. But more injuries to their rotation — left-hander Steven Matz and right-hander Seth Lugo are both on the 10-day disabled list with elbow injuries — and Wheeler’s impressive performance (he was regularly clocked at 97 mph) gave New York no choice but to bring him north.
“I think adrenaline-wise, certainly, he’ll be amped up,” Mets manager Terry Collins said Thursday before New York beat the Atlanta Braves 6-2 to win a season-opening three-game series. “Emotionally, I’m sure he’ll be nervous.”
Collins said he is a bit anxious as well to see Wheeler debut, partially because he’ll be debuting on a night in which temperatures are predicted to fall below 40 degrees.
“Probably won’t (be) the most ideal conditions,” Collins said. “We’ve got to be careful; because, with where we are right now, we’ve got to make sure he leaves (Friday’s) game healthy.”
Wheeler will be opposed by Marlins left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who will also be making his season debut. Chen was limited to a career-low 22 starts in his first season with Miami due to an elbow sprain, but he looked healthy this spring, when he posted a 3.32 ERA over 19 innings.
With Chen back to 100 percent, the Marlins can focus on something a little less worrisome: his hitless streak at the plate. Chen was 0-for-44 last season and is 0-for-50 since reaching the major leagues with the Baltimore Orioles in 2012.
“That is pretty amazing he hasn’t thrown one out there somehow,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said Thursday before Miami edged the Washington Nationals 4-3 in 10 innings. “I think it will happen. He worked hard in spring. He handles the bat well. Hopefully he will get it.”
The Marlins got their first win of the season Thursday and avoided falling to 0-3 for the third time in five years.
“You don’t want that to grow,” Mattingly said. “It is good to get that.”
Wheeler is 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in six starts against the Marlins. Chen won his lone start against the Mets last July 5, when he threw seven innings of one-run ball in Miami’s 5-2 victory at Citi Field.