Zack Wheeler started off Monday night with a blazing fastball to Andrew McCutchen and then made short order of him with a backwards-K, which would foreshadow the success he had on the night and how he would achieve it.
Through his first five innings, Wheeler allowed three hits, yielded zero walks, and recorded nine strikeouts. The Georgia native allowed two hits to start the first two frames, although they were hit as hard as the kids from Williamsport would hit them, and found himself in a second and third jam with no outs. Wheeler proceeded to strike out the next three hitters, all swinging.
The right-hander’s new found confidence helped him through a mess in an inning that would have caved in on him four months ago.
Mets’ manager Mickey Callaway said his transformation has been similar to that of Cleveland Indians’ pitcher Carlos Carrasco.
“They both had to make the same exact adjustment in attacking hitters the right way and being fearless and not giving in and kind of owning the mound,” Callaway said. “That’s probably the best comparison there is between two people in the major leagues. They both can be dominant. We’ve seen them both be dominant at times.
“They’re exactly the same. Everything about them, their development, who they are as a pitcher. They both have probably the best stuff on each of their staffs.
“It’s maybe a good person for Zack to look at and know, hey, if I stick with these adjustments, I can be a really, really top-of-the-line consistent pitcher moving forward for years to come.”
Wheeler entered the sixth with a pitch-count at 84, and came back with a eight-pitch inning to control his pitch-count and entered the seventh at 92 pitches.
A fly out to right field went down as Wheeler’s first out of the inning, but Crawford advanced to third.
He then struck out Steven Duggar with a fastball on the lower black at 98 mph on pitch 109 of the game. It was Wheeler’s first double-digit strikeout game since prior to Tommy John surgery back in 2015.
Alen Hanson then doubled on a pop-up down the left field line, and on a night of bloops and cheap hits for the Giants, it was a dinky pop up that scored the Giants’ first run.
“Somebody should’ve been there,” Wheeler said about the defensive shift behind him that forced the run to score. “If they were playing normal position. It’s not on them, but yeah. You get what you want, you get soft contact and it costs you a run. You really don’t worry about that, because in your head it’s supposed to be out and you just move on.”
Wheeler’s night would end with some misfortune, but it winded up as his best overall performance since facing Colorado at home earlier this season.
In his breakout season, Wheeler had pitched to a 3.75 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP over 130+ innings coming into Monday night.
But since a session with pitching coach Dave Eiland, Wheeler has drastically improved his control, stamina, strike out numbers and virtually everything else about his game.
Wheeler also learned from Jacob deGrom to only throw fastballs in his bullpen sessions, generally low and away on righties, and low and in on lefties.
The four-year veteran has registered a 2.79 ERA in his last 15 starts, spanning over 90.1 innings. He has also seen his velocity rise to an average fastball of 96.5 mph on the season, almost one full mph faster than last season.
Arguably most importantly, Wheeler’s 139.1 innings pitched is the second most of his career and he is on pace to set a career high, passing his current cap of 185.1 innings.
Wheeler has aso grown into a role of being a No. 3 and arguably even a No. 2 starter. Behind Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler can become one of the most valuable starters in baseball.
Assuming Wheeler can stay healthy, he can become one of the more dominant No. 3’s in baseball. A staff founded on deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler and lefty Steven Matz can be one of the more dominant and dangerous rotations in baseball.
Barring health, of course. Fingers crossed.
Wheeler Quick Hits:
Saw his six-start winning streak come to a close. Logged his first double-digit strikeout game since Aug. 15, 2014 vs. the Cubs (fourth 10+ K game of his career). Has not lost a start in his last 10 outings, tied for the longest unbeaten streak of his career (also, June 30-Aug. 20, 2014).
• In his last five starts, has a 1.13 ERA (four earned runs/32.0 innings). In his last 10 starts, has a 2.09 ERA (15 earned runs/64.2 innings).
• Completed at least 7.0 innings for the seventh time in his last eight home starts. During that span, has a 2.32 ERA at Citi Field (14 earned runs/54.1 innings).
• After putting men on at second and third with no outs in the fifth, fanned the next three batters to escape the frame unscathed. San Francisco went 1-7 overall with RISP off Wheeler tonight. In his last five starts, opposing hitters are 2-23 (.087) with RISP.
• Fanned at least seven batters for the 14th time this season, the most such games in a season in his career (had 13 games with seven or more punchouts in 2014). Only three NL pitchers (Max Scherzer, 21 7+ K games; Jacob deGrom, 19 and Patrick Corbin, 18) have more.
• Has held opposing cleanup hitters to a .267 slugging percentage, second-best in the majors. Has allowed two extra-base hits to hitters in the fourth spot in the order, the fewest among all pitchers who have faced at least 70 cleanup hitters this season.
• Was the 10th time a Mets starter has thrown at least 7.0 innings and allowed one or no earned runs in a no-decision this season, the most such games by any team in the majors this season. Marks the third time Wheeler has started one of those no-decisions.