PORT ST. LUCIE — David Wright fought half the battle Saturday and was encouraged with the results. It was a start, but his marathon has just begun.
The Mets captain, in his first action since last May 27, went hitless in two at-bats as the designated hitter in his team’s 8-6 exhibition loss to the Nationals. Just returning to the lineup was special for Wright — he hit a line drive to third base in his second at-bat that Neftali Soto knocked down and turned into an out — and yet he understands it will take several weeks to truly gauge his readiness.
“You have got to be able to contribute on both sides of the ball, and this was a nice first step for me,” Wright said. “But there are plenty more hurdles and plenty more steps to take before I really fulfill and have the satisfaction of coming out and being able to actually take the field and play a real game.”
Throwing is still the biggest issue as Wright rehabs from surgery to correct a herniated disk in his neck. At this point, Wright is throwing from 60-70 feet, but he won’t play third base in an exhibition game until he builds up his arm strength — a process that might take another two or three weeks.
Wright, who is managing spinal stenosis, stretches for about 90 minutes before workouts and games to prepare his lower back for the grind of athletic competition.
“My neck feels good, my back is what it is, but I feel like I have a grip at least on how to handle it day in and day out,” Wright said. “Now it’s just a matter of trying to catch up defensively.”
The Mets were cautious with Wright in spring training last year, excluding him from Grapefruit League games early. This year the blueprint has changed, with Wright eager to receive as many at-bats as possible to prepare for the season.
“Last year at this time he couldn’t [play], he was not ready, he wasn’t even close,” manager Terry Collins said. “Now he’s at least DHing in games, so we’ll be able to get some at-bats as we head into March and when his arm comes around we’ll get him in the field, but it was a big step today, I thought he swung the bat pretty good, so it was a good day for him.”
Wright received a rousing ovation from the fans at First Data Field as he walked to the plate in the first inning to face lefty Gio Gonzalez. Wright flied out to center before hitting the line drive to third that Soto knocked down in the fourth.
The gesture by the fans didn’t go unnoticed by Wright.
“These fans have been behind me for so long and seen so many different ends of the spectrum, not only from me personally, but for this team,” Wright said. “It certainly makes you feel good when you get that kind of reception after missing so long. You forget about the adrenaline and emotion that comes along with playing in New York until these fans are behind you.
“You typically don’t expect the butterflies and nervousness and bit of emotion that comes into your first spring training at-bat, but you tend to take those things for granted when you miss so much time over the last couple of years. As small as a chance as it was for me to cherish that, I’m going to take it, because it was a lot of work to get back to this point.”
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