Juan Centeno (Photo by Gordon Donovan)
Rafael Montero was hotter than Scarlett Johansson in her Black Widow costume for his first four starts of the season, compiling three wins, 27 strikeouts and only one walk. Zack Wheeler was as cold as ice, struggling to find command and his first win of the year.
The two men may be the brightest pitching prospects in the Mets organization right now, but couldn’t have been further apart from each other on the spectrum as they were for the first month of the season. We know that Wheeler said he watched some video, and noticed a small mechanical issue that could have caused his shaky start to the season. He worked out the kink, and poof, he pitched his best game of the season on Tuesday, going 6.2 innings, and not sacrificing a walk until the final batter he faced. However, there may be more than meets the eye here with both of these guys.
Enter the Travis d’Arnaud injury.
Everyone knows that d’Arnaud is out with a fracture in his left foot. The injury caused the Mets to promote Juan Centeno, who had been the starting catcher in Binghamton until the d’Arnaud injury forced his call up. Many pegged Centeno for Las Vegas at the start of the year, since he is defensively superior and had already shown offensive mastery at the Double-A level with Binghamton the year before. However, this looked as if it was a move that was made to keep Centeno playing everyday, and he was primed to be promoted the minute d’Arnaud got his call to the show.
Centeno spent time in 2012 with Wheeler in Binghamton. During Wheeler’s best start of the year, Centeno was catching. Could that have had something to do with Wheeler’s performance on Tuesday? Is there a comfort level there? Does Centeno call a better game, putting Wheeler in a better position to succeed?
Montero, on the other hand, has pitched quite poorly since Centeno was called up. Montero had primarily pitched with Francisco Pena behind the plate this season, but could the lack of leadership and wisdom that Centeno provided the other catchers, even from the dugout in between innings, be causing the catchers to put the pitcher in a less than optimal position to succeed?
This could all be coincidence, and maybe it is, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Wheeler has pitched much better since Centeno’s call up, and Montero has pitched much worse. Maybe Wheeler is finally heating up, and it was only a matter of time before he got it together. Maybe the hitters in the Eastern League are heating up, starting to hit Montero, and it was just a matter of time before they figured him out. But maybe, just maybe, Juan Centeno is the smoking gun here.