Maggie Wiggin, Contributor
Zack Wheeler will start tonight against the Cubs, as the Mets begin a three-game series in Chicago.
It’s been a challenging start to the season for Wheeler, but his recent most performance is a good reminder of why patience with young pitchers is so important, because the payoff can be really special…
Wheeler’s last start was his best of the season. He allowed just one run and four hits over 6 1/3 innings. Most impressively, he struck out nine and walked none. It was just his third career start with no walks.
The key for Wheeler was pounding the strike zone. When he wasn’t striking batters out, he generated weak contact and induced ground ball outs. Even his one blemish – a solo homerun to the last batter he faced – would have been an easy out at almost any stadium in the league. He maintained his velocity throughout the game, hitting 94 and 95 mph with regularity in the 6th and 7th innings.
Wheeler is still having some difficulty keeping his pitch count down. It took him 108 pitches to complete 6 1/3 innings and he ran eight full counts. Late in the game, he fell behind batters more frequently, which forced him to throw more than he would have otherwise. But he’s moving in the right direction and Thursday marked his second start in a row pitching into the 7th inning.
While he’s hasn’t achieved the level of success yet that many hoped he would find in his sophomore season, Wheeler is showing definite signs of developing as a pitcher. Though his ERA is still 4.31, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is just 3.50, which suggests his overall results may be somewhat affected by bad luck or poor fielding (most likely a combination of the two). His K/9 has jumped from 7.6 to nearly 9 this season and his BB/9 has dropped slightly.
Wheeler can build on his last start by continuing to limit the walks as well as by utilizing his arsenal of off-speed pitches, such as his curveball, which he has thrown for strikes to great success. The combination of this curve and his fastball is an intimidating one, especially if he can get batters to start biting on his slider as well.