In yesterday’s 5-3 over the Nationals, Zack Wheeler made his Grapefruit League debut and allowed just one hit with a walk while striking out two over two innings.
“He’s very similar to [Dwight Gooden],’’ Wally Backman told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post. “I think Doc’s breaking ball was a little bit bigger, but this kid has got, to me, real high expectations. When you see this kid throw 98 in the eighth inning as a starting pitcher, that’s what’s impressive. He’s nice and easy, has great mechanics. He should stay healthy a long time.’’
Wheeler walked the first batter he faced and also allowed a hit in the same inning, but did not allow a run to score.
“There wasn’t really nerves,” Wheeler said, according to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York. “I was just a little pumped up going out there. After I got settled down, after the first couple of batters, I think everything went well. I was getting underneath my slider a little bit. It was backing up. But I still got some swings and misses off of it.”
Despite the impressive performance, Terry Collins said after the game Wheeler will likely head to Triple-A Las Vegas to start the season, regardless of Johan Santana’s situation.
Michael Baron, ContributorThat was fun to watch. He was clearly amped up to start the game, as he ended up walking the first batter he faced and got behind the second one. But after a conference at the mound with the infielders, Wheeler settled in and simply mowed through the Washington hitters for two innings. He never lost his composure, maintained his approach, and managed to strand a runner at third after striking out two batters in his first inning of work. The most impressive part of his outing was how he responded to the jitters and early adversity – he was able to find the zone, battle through the leadoff walk, and shut the Nationals down in a difficult situation.
If it wasn’t evident before, it should be clear now: Wheeler is very close. The thought of Wheeler being paired up with Matt Harvey at the top of the rotation is very enticing, and the fan in me doesn’t want to be patient about Wheeler’s promotion, even though I know a delay is both likely and necessary. He has become mechanically sound and has harnessed his secondary pitches to the point he probably needs only a small amount of innings at Triple-A before being promoted. What’s more, he clearly has grown mentally, can make mental and physical adjustments on the fly, and he knows how to limit damage when he struggles.
Even if he goes to Vegas and gets lit up in the hitter-friendly PCL to start the year, I wouldn’t be too concerned as long as his mechanics and approach remain the same. The important part of the assignment will be to build innings and arm strength, not the results. It will be worth watching how he responds to being hit hard, should it happen. Does he change that approach if they pound him? Does he try and do too much and change mechanically if he doesn’t realize success? The Mets do not intend to change anything for him while he’s out there, and so those are the tests at hand for him.