New York Mets News: Updates On Lucas Duda, Zack Wheeler

After a 3-1 victory over the Washington Nationals on Saturday night at Citi Field, partnered with a St. Louis Cardinals loss, the New York Mets moved within one game of a wild-card spot in the National League. However, the Mets received mixed updates on two players who were expected to play key roles for the 2016 squad.

First baseman Lucas Duda, who has been out of action since late May with a stress fracture in his lower back, has started hitting soft toss in Port St. Lucie, according to several reports. The 30-year-old suffered a setback in early August and was shut down an additional 30 days, putting his return in doubt.

Before the injury, Duda was slashing .231/.297/.431 with seven home runs and 19 runs batted in through 39 games. The Mets acquired veteran James Loney on May 28 from the San Diego Padres to fill the void at first. While Loney’s defense has been fine, he has slashed just .258/.302/.369 with six HRs and 26 RBIs in 78 games.

The Mets’ offense took a hit earlier this week when second baseman Neil Walker announced he will undergo surgery for a herniated disc in his back. Walker, who was arguably the team’s most consistent hitter in 2016, joins David Wright, Matt Harvey, Juan Lagares, Justin Ruggiano, Jonathon Niese and possibly Duda as Mets who may miss the rest of the season. In Duda’s case, however, the Mets are not ruling out a late September return.

“We’re working the routine as we would if it were July,” general manager Sandy Alderson said to reporters, including MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo. “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 could be a non-tender candidate for the Mets this offseason, especially with the uncertainty surrounding his injury. However, he has been a productive force in the team’s lineup since 2011-2015, slashing .249/.349/.453 with 97 HRs during that stretch.

As for Zack Wheeler, the Mets have shut down the right-hander for the remainder of the year, per ESPN’s Adam Rubin. Wheeler is not scheduled to pick up a baseball until spring training next year.

After going out on a rehab assignment, Wheeler experienced discomfort in his right arm — the same arm that underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2015. An MRI revealed that Wheeler suffered a mild flexor strain but no structural damage. He is yet to pitch at the major league level since undergoing the procedure last year.

“I think it’s sort of on me, to be honest,” Wheeler said in late July as worked toward a rehab assignment, via New York Post. “We set out a plan, we try and follow that, but some days you have your ups and downs, so we’re just playing it by ear. … I felt pretty good. I’m happy where I’m at right now, coming off the little setback that I had.”

In addition to Wheeler’s season-ending setback, the Mets have been forced to rely on rookies such as Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, and Rafael Montero to pitch. Steven Matz (elbow/shoulder), Noah Syndergaard (bone spurs), and Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome) have all been hampered by injuries. While Syndergaard and, to a lesser degree, Matz have been able to pitch, Harvey’s shoulder surgery for TOS ended his poor season.

Remarkably, the Mets are still in a playoff race despite their injury woes. But a late season boost from Duda may help an offense that, despite its home run propensity, has scored the third-fewest runs in the NL.

[Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images]