How many of you are sitting at home tonight, wondering and asking yourselves how long it will be until we finally see Zack Wheeler wearing that uniform and hurling 98 mph fastballs from the mound at Citi Field?
The question is not an easy one to answer and in fact it’s a perfect paradox by virtue of the logical arguments one can make for either side. It’s a conundrum, that much is true, but it’s a wonderful dilemma to be in.
Four starts ago, I talked about his mechanical flaw that kept him from harnessing the command of his four plus-pitches. I even said that a small tweak could fix that flaw and give him a more consistent release point and enable him to spot his pitches better than he had been.
By sheer coincidence, Wheeler did make an adjustment after that start, and while it didn’t completely eliminate that inverted w, it’s certainly no longer as pronounced as it once was. More importantly, his release point is now not lagging behind his plant as drastically as it was before. He’s now throwing the ball exactly where he wants it to go, and it’s no longer the guessing game it used to be. He’s no longer crossing up his catcher. Let me interject that Juan Centeno deserves some credit for this transformation. Calling games and being a top defensive backstop is what Centeno does best.
Anyway, the results have been dramatic.
Over his last three starts, Wheeler has thrown a combined 20 innings and allowed just three earned runs. But the real news here is that Wheeler struck out 19 and walked only three batters – one in each start.
To put that into perspective, that’s three walks in his last 20 innings as compared to 15 walks in his previous 23.1 innings before he tweaked his delivery.
Four starts ago, Wheeler ranked 47th in ERA among qualified starters in the PCL, his 3.74 ERA now ranks 16th and looks so much better than the 7.67 he sported after his first five starts.
To those so-called experts and quasi-analysts who blamed the humidity or lack thereof for his woes, or that it was the altitude playing tricks on his brain, I’ll stand by what I’ve said all along. “None of that stuff matters if you’re pitching great.” The problem was mechanical and not related to all those cop-outs and excuses. Many great pitchers have made it through the PCL just fine as I pointed out last month.
We are now seeing the Zack Wheeler that we’ve all been anxiously awaiting since the middle of the 2011 season. The kid with electric stuff and four phenomenal pitches is now throwing strikes and pounding the zone. He’s hitting the corners, overpowering hitters, and sending them back to the dugout talking to themselves. He’s gone from a great thrower to a great pitcher.
This feels so good, and the timing is beginning to feel right.
In Spring Training, Terry Collins challenged Wheeler and told him, “If you want to be a major leaguer, go to Triple-A and pitch great.”
Guess what, Terry? Zack Wheeler is pitching great.
The Mets sure could use a jolt of enthusiasm and energy on this team right now…
Matt Harvey sure could use somebody to help him shoulder the load in the Mets rotation…
Met fans could use another reason to keep watching…
I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if bringing Wheeler up now will cost the Wilpons a few million dollars over the first seven years of team control. My regular readers know my feelings about Met fans who like to play team accountants. This is New York not Oakland or San Diego.
If Wheeler is ready than he should be called up and to make room for him, I’ll drive Shaun Marcum to the airport myself.
If Wheeler’s dominance continues in his next start, I see no reason why he shouldn’t be able to join the Mets rotation during the next homestand when the Cincinnati Reds come to Citi Field. Or better yet give him a couple of extra days of rest and have him make his Major League Debut against the New York Yankees on May 27 at Citi Field. I just love the sound of that, don’t you?.
As you know, MMO has been covering every Zack Wheeler start like white on rice. Our reports and analysis are based on our own observations, discussions with scouts, and of course what we learn from Wally and Randy.
The following are some thoughts from Rob and Mitch from last night. But before that I just want to thank the incredible Jay Horwitz for bailing me out yesterday. If you’re reading this Jay, that was awesome, thanks a lot.
Thoughts from Rob
Last night I was at Cashman Field to witness the ace of the Las Vegas 51s and prized prospect Zack Wheeler on the mound. In many ways Wheeler lived up to the hype and pitched as expected. However, what I did NOT expect was the competitive spirit he displayed. His poise is more like what one would expect from a seasoned veteran and not a kid three weeks shy of turning 23.
Wheeler pitched well, keeping Albuquerque batters on their toes all evening long. He tossed 7 1/3 innings, the longest of any 51s pitcher this season, allowing just two runs on six hits and fanned seven while walking just one and throwing 61 of his 91 pitches for strikes, his best ratio this season. No opposing batter reached second base again until the seventh.
It was good to see how Wheeler responded when some pressure and adversity came his way. After Alburquerque outfielder Matt Angle launched a first pitch fastball from Wheeler high into the Vegas night he was unfazed. His manager Wally Backman showed faith in him and didn’t even come out to settle him down. He didn’t wave to the bullpen either. Instead he gave his young ace a chance to show what he was made of and Wheeler answered the call by striking out the next batter on a knee-buckling curveball. Nasty.
After watching him tonight, it’s clear—as we’ve all been reading and hearing—that Wheeler has “the stuff.” What I learned, however, is that he also has the make-up. He did not get rattled. He did not get flustered. When he had to reach back for something extra, he succeeded.
Another interesting observation about Wheeler was the efficiency he pitches with. He keeps the game moving at a quick clip. He doesn’t take a lot of time between pitches. This obviously keeps the fielder’s sharp. Steve Trachsel he’s not.
It seems like every few years we Mets fans hear about ‘the next’ Tom Seaver or Jerry Koosman. We hear it so much we’be become numb to it. Am I saying Zack Wheeler will be the next Koosman to Matt Harvey’s Seaver? No.
However, after seeing Harvey pitch over the last month and personally witnessing Zack Wheeler last night, maybe, just maybe, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Thoughts from Mitch
Wheeler was locked into cruise control for the majority of the night. He threw 99 pitches, 61 for strikes, and only allowed one walk to his final batter. He gave up a run early in the first inning, but settled down after that and took control of the game.
Wheeler showed poise after he gave up a leadoff home run to Matt Angle in the seventh, but he stuck out the next batter and retired the side in order, looking unphased in the process. He continues to build on his previous performances, and it appears that fixing the mechanical glitch has made the difference. Since the fix, he has only walked three batters, one in each of his past three starts. One more thing, late in the game when he fanned his last batter, he was still hitting 96 mph on the radar gun…wow.