Last night during our game thread, I was taken aback when a reader commented during the second inning that the problem with Zack Wheeler was that he’s a thrower and not a pitcher. I jumped right in and said nothing could be more further from the truth and that Wheeler was mature beyond his years as a pitcher and that like most young players will have the occasional hiccup.
Wheeler proceeded to validate my faith in him and realizing he didn’t have his “A” game, did what all great pitchers do and made changes on the fly and battled his way into what ended up being a gutsy seven inning performance that limited the Washington Nationals to just one run.
He put on a pitching clinic, getting the big outs when he needed them most including a critical pair of rally-killing doubleplay grounders. Wheeler admitted afterward that he had no feel for his curve, slider or changeup and decided to stick to his two and four-seamers to get the job done, spotting them and mixing up speeds.
It’s not fun pitching without his best stuff, he told reporters.
“You’re mad at yourself and you’re trying to figure out what it is. I wouldn’t say it’s mentally draining, but it’s frustrating. I could tell it was going to be one of those days, but you have to get through it.”
And get through it is exactly what the young righthander did. He now owns a 4-0 record with a 1.59 ERA in his last seven starts, while pitching at least six innings and allowing just two or fewer runs in each outing. Boom.
“You can let the game get away and he didn’t,” Terry Collins later said. “That’s why I’m telling you, this kid is really starting to figure it out.”
“You see it in every phase. He’s not just throwing now, he knows what he wants to do. But the biggest thing is, I’ve seen a whole different competitor on the mound. All of the sudden he’s a different animal out there.”
A different animal out there? Indeed.
While the entire staff has been excellent this year, with the summer came the emergence of two youngsters vying for the top spot in 2014. Tonight in Washington, Zack Wheeler will try to keep pace with Jacob deGrom.
As Jamie Ross discussed on MLB.com, Wheeler is coming off another great start and has put together an impressive run. Over his last six starts he’s gone at least six innings while posting a 1.63 ERA and he hasn’t lost since June 25th against the first place Oakland A’s.
Wheeler said he’s confident with the way his team is playing behind him.
“We’re a good team right now, I feel,” Wheeler said. “We’re just a couple of swings or outs away from turning the corner. … I feel like we’re a whole different team from the beginning of the season, honestly.”
Wheeler is up against a tall task. The Washington Nationals remain in first place in the NL East and have one of the best pitching staffs in the majors.
Tonight Wheeler will face-off against Gio Gonzalez and it doesn’t get much easier from there. The remaining games in the series will be pitched by the newly acquired Doug Fister and the co-ace of the staff Jordan Zimmerman.