After a sublime second half to the 2018 season, New York Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler is back at it this spring. Through four Grapefruit League appearances, including 5.1 innings of two-hit, no-run ball on Thursday afternoon versus the St. Louis Cardinals, Wheeler owns a 2.25 earned-run average with eight strikeouts, two walks, and 0.83 WHIP over 12 innings pitched.
After giving up a leadoff single and a stolen base to Harrison Bader in the first, Wheeler set down Yadier Molina, Dexter Fowler, and Jose Martinez to leave him stranded. Wheeler buckling down and preventing an early run from crossing the plate is a great sign of where he’s at in mid-March.
After logging a career-best 74.6 percent left-on-base rate last year, leaving a man in scoring position stranded with the heart of the Cards’ order at the plate gives this writer good reason to believe that Zack Wheeler is doing all he can to pick up right where he left off last year.
Wheeler set down St. Louis in order in the second, striking out Drew Robinson along the way, and struck out two more Cardinals hitters, pitcher Michael Wacha and Molina, in a scoreless third. Another perfect frame in the fourth and a 4-6-3 double play to erase Robinson in the fifth sent the right-hander into the sixth inning for the first time this spring.
“I’m getting there. Not all the way there, but I’m working in the right direction. I’m starting to throw [inside] a lot more consistently […] I was mixing my pitches up and moving [them] all around the zone,” Wheeler told the team’s media corps. “Sometimes I might lose it here or there. The first two innings I felt terrible, then the first pitch of the third I was like, ‘I got it. I figured it out’. So I sorta just coasted from there.”
Naturally, Spring Training is a time to work out the kinks and get one’s self mentally and physically prepared for the all-out grind that a 30-start season entails. For Zack Wheeler, who had arguably the best year of his major-league career in 2018 (3.31 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 4.1 fWAR, 179 strikeouts, 55 walks, in 29 starts; 182.1 innings), this spring has been about getting himself back to the place he was last year.
So far, it appears he’s doing just that.