Wright shows he's healed with strong debut
Mets third baseman was sidelined with left abdominal injury
JUPITER, Fla. -- Second baseman Daniel Murphy was the instigator, posting a series of signs outside the Mets' clubhouse Monday, each of them scrawled with the word "WRIGHT" and a thin black arrow.
The arrows directed David Wright to the team bus, which whisked him to Jupiter later Monday morning. It was there that Wright made a successful Grapefruit League debut in a 6-3 win over the Cardinals, singling in his first at-bat and diving on defense to rob Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal of a hit.
"You can do all the conditioning and working out that you want, Wright said. "Playing in a game is different. When you have to get up, get down, get up, get down, trying to prepare for your at-bats the way you do, it's a little different."
In his first game action since straining a left abdominal muscle early in March, Wright played four innings in the field, making two putouts. The first of them was a diving stop to his right of Furcal's hard-hit ball in the second, which Wright called "a reaction play." An inning later, Wright ranged easily to his left to snare a Matt Holliday grounder.
He finished 1-for-2 at the plate, grounding out in the fourth inning after singling up the middle in the first. Though the original plan was for Wright to play only three innings of defense, the third baseman approached his manager during the game to request a fourth.
"It tells you all about his makeup and the way he approaches it," Terry Collins said. "That's why we need him in our lineup."
Wright met with trainer Ray Ramirez early Monday morning and, after a brief conference, was cleared to play for the first time since straining his left rectus abdominis early in March. He has spent the past four days participating in full baseball activities in Port St. Lucie, including throwing, fielding and hitting drills.
The prognosis may have been grim when Wright flew back to New York earlier this month for a cortisone injection in his midsection, after doctors diagnosed him with the same abdominal issue that required Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis to have surgery.
But Wright, who is good friends with Zimmerman from their days as amateur baseball players in Virginia, has recovered quickly. With nine Grapefruit League games remaining before Opening Day, the third baseman should have more than enough time to amass the required number of at-bats.
"If anybody's going to get himself as ready as he possibly can," Collins said, "it's going to be David Wright."
Though Wright will not be in the lineup Tuesday, when the Mets return to Digital Domain Park for the first of three consecutive home games, he will almost certainly play Wednesday and Thursday. One of those appearances may come in a Minor League game, given that the flexible rules of such games can afford Wright extra opportunities to hit.
The goal is for him to amass around 30 at-bats over the next week, which -- barring any setbacks -- should not be an issue. Nor do the Mets expect any setbacks. Other than general body soreness -- "good soreness," as he likes to call it -- Wright has not felt any discomfort in his midsection in days.
He believes he is fully healed. The Mets have little reason to think otherwise. Now, the only challenge will be keeping himself from doing too much too soon.
"I can't feel rushed, or I can't feel like I'm up against the clock to go out there and start cramming innings in, because that's when you get hurt somewhere else," Wright said. "If you go out there and start pushing yourself when your body is not ready for it, something else will get hurt."
The Mets are counting on the opposite. They believe they have their star third baseman back for what they hope will be a long, productive season. After missing more than two months with a stress fracture in his lower back last season, and setting career lows in batting average and slugging percentage, Wright knows how integral his health is to the team.
"We need him," said pitcher Johan Santana, perhaps the only individual player as vital to the club's success. "There's no question about it."
To that end, Murphy posted no signs after Monday's game at Roger Dean Stadium -- Wright already knows the direction he must take. Tuesday he will rest, Wednesday he will play, and so on and so forth until Spring Training ends. All arrows point to Opening Day.
"I lost my patience early due to all the nicks," Collins said, referring to the inordinate number of injuries the Mets have endured this spring. "But hopefully, it's going to pay off."