Jul 31

Zack Wheeler Shows What The Fuss Was About

When the New York Mets traded Carlos Beltran, arguably one of their top three position players in history, for prospect Zack Wheeler, they said this guy was going to be good. Really good.

We got a glimpse of just how good Tuesday night in Miami when he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He lost it, but also impressive was despite the emotions of losing history, he kept his composure enough to minimize the damage to two runs.

WHEELER: Domination. (Getty)

WHEELER: Domination. (Getty)

In what Wheeler called a learning experience that might have been the most important thing he took from the game. Wheeler also learned pitching to contact, when you’re throwing in the mid-90s is a positive. He showed it isn’t necessary to try to strike out everybody, which spikes his pitch count.

Wheeler has struggled with command, but after six innings he was at 65 pitches. There have been times when he had that many after three innings.

No-hitters, as exciting and a dominant display of pitching as they are, remain flukes with a certain element of luck. Averaging around ten pitches an inning is a sign of complete control.

Through six innings, Wheeler showed what all the fuss has been about. He showed why he was worth the wait.

“I felt smooth with my mechanics,’’ Wheeler told reporters last night. As evidenced by the pitch-tipping episode, that hasn’t always been the case.

“The rhythm was good. Good tempo in between pitches,’’ he continued. “Everything was just clicking well and I was hitting my spots.’’

When Wheeler made Giancarlo Stanton look foolish earlier, it looked as if he might get it, but his grasp at history slipped away when the non-descript Ed Lucas singled with one out in the seventh.

Who?

That’s right; things often get broken up by the unknown. It wasn’t a fluke hit, but a solid drive off a bad pitch. John Buck called for a fastball in, but Wheeler left it out over the plate.

Usually when a pitcher loses a no-hitter, the manager or pitching coach comes out to settle him down, to remind him there’s still a game. Surprisingly, pitching coach Dan Warthen wasn’t sent out after several more hitters, but by that time the shutout was lost and Wheeler was tinkering on disaster.

Wheeler later admitted he lost his concentration.

“I did get a little rushed after that,’’ he said. “I probably let down my guard a little bit, but it was a learning experience.’’

Wheeler composed himself enough to get an inning-ending double play, but he was too spent to go out there for the eighth.

Wheeler’s effort marked the fifth time a Mets’ pitcher took a no-hitter into the seventh this season. Matt Harvey has done it three times and Dillon Gee once.

Maybe Wheeler will throw a no-hitter someday. So might Harvey. Then they may not. However, they’ve shown us you have to watch.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 27

Mets Opt To Protect Matt Harvey And Zack Wheeler With Six Man Rotation

How long the New York Mets’ six-man rotation will last nobody is willing to say. It could be until Jeremy Hefner is beaten for a third straight start or if Jenrry Mejia’s game Friday was a fluke.

The driving force for the decision is to space out the starts of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler with the intent of letting them pitch out the remainder of the season. Nobody wants to pull the plug in mid-September, especially if the Mets are making a run at .500, and shaving an inning or two off each start is not the best avenue, either.

For the remainder of this season, at least, the objective if is protect Harvey and Wheeler, and with the playoffs seemingly out of the picture, there’s nothing wrong with the concept, because everybody else is also getting more rest.

There have been teams in recent years to go to six starters, but only once or twice through the rotation, and usually because of a double header. As a matter or course for a season, I can’t recall it ever happening. I do remember four-man rotations. Too bad those are a thing of the past.

It is estimated each has about 75 innings left in their seasons.

Dillon Gee started Saturday and gave up three homers early in the game; Carlos Torres goes Sunday, followed by Hefner, Wheeler, Mejia and Harvey in Miami.

This all began with the decision to cap Harvey prior to the break. Harvey has had blister problems and slightly tweaked his back earlier they year, but his arm has been sound and the Mets want to keep it that way.

“Right now, if you pencil it out all the way through, Matt has about 10 more [starts],’’ manager Terry Collins told reporters Saturday in Washington. “So we should be able to spread those innings out to let him go out to pitch and be OK.’’

Collins wouldn’t say how long the Mets will stick with six, but said how well the team is playing could be a determining factor. The Mets were seven games under .500 after Friday’s double-header split. Currently, they are 11 games behind for the second wild card.

Another factor is Jon Niese’s rehab from a shoulder injury. Once he’s ready somebody will be out a job, likely Mejia unless he keeps throwing seven scoreless each time out.

The flip side of going with an extra starter is going with one less player off the bench. Of course, those numbers will change if the Mets make it until the September 1 call-ups.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 26

Mets, Nationals Heading In Opposite Directions

There’s still a big chunk remaining to the season, but the New York Mets have a chance of, a) finishing over .500, b) finishing in second place in the NL East, c) finish with a better record than the Yankees, or d) all of the above.

It is possible, but also something nobody realistically considered at the start of the season. With a handful of days before the trade deadline, the Mets aren’t going to make a run at the playoffs, but instead have opted to keep a pat hand to ascertain how good they are at the end of the season.

It’s not a bad stance as it gives them a greater understanding of their offseason needs, important since they have close to $50 million coming off the books. Trading pieces such as Bobby Parnell, Marlon Byrd and Ike Davis will only create more holes.

Washington was seemingly given a free pass to the World Series by the national media, but the Nationals are fading fast and the Mets could leapfrog them this weekend, beginning with a doubleheader today.

With the exception of Jenrry Mejia going against Jordan Zimmerman in the first game, all the pitching match-ups favor the Mets.

Not many in the sport are feeling much empathy for the Nationals, who in their first taste of success in decades last season carried themselves with an arrogance that firmly stated “we’ll be back here often,’’ when it shut down Stephen Strasburg.

Instead of limiting his innings piecemeal, the Nationals cut him off at the end and kept him from pitching in the playoffs. That worked out well, didn’t it?

As the Mets attest, the playoffs aren’t a given. They haven’t been back since 2006, but coughed up opportunities the following two years.

I understand the Nationals’ reasoning, just as I understand the Mets’ doing it with Matt Harvey, but there’s a better way than just pulling the ball when he reaches an innings limit. The Nationals ignored the rest of their players and placed more an emphasis on Strasburg than anybody else.

They gave the impression the playoffs would be a given. However, manager Davey Johnson is retiring after this season; Strasburg is having a down year; their bullpen has holes; and the offense has been erratic.

The Nationals basically dismissed the rest of the NL East, which now belongs to the Braves.

The Nationals’ problems are well documented, as are the Phillies’ injuries. This time next week the Phillies could have traded several key pieces, although they say they are keeping Cliff Lee.

This time next week both could be looking up at the Mets.

Amazing.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 22

Contrasting Zack Wheeler And Matt Harvey

The New York Mets won the games pitched by Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey over the weekend, but their performances illustrated the gap between the two, and still the need for improvement of each.

Let’s look first at Wheeler, who is here to stay. He’s taken his lumps and will take some more. Wheeler’s problem remains command of all his pitches, beginning with the fastball that is the lead domino. Again, Wheeler had a high pitch count that didn’t translate getting deep into the game. He didn’t get out of the fifth Saturday.

When that happens, coupled with Jeremy Hefner’s mugging the previous night, it means a strain on the bullpen and the need for Harvey to work deep into his game Sunday.

Harvey is head-and-shoulders above Wheeler now, and the Mets did it right with Harvey in that they stopped him at seven innings. If they went six that leaves the bullpen working three, which will accomplish what the Mets want on cutting Harvey’s innings, but it increases that of the bullpen.

Harvey struck out ten, and here’s a case where being overpowering works against him. Strikeouts hike up the pitch count, and he could extend his mound time if he pitched more to contact. But, I could be too picky here, in that contact also increases the possibility of hits, and runs, and maybe losing.

Perhaps I am and others are expecting too much from Harvey based on the early returns. Damn, the guy is really good and I admit I am violating my own rule of just letting him pitch and enjoy what I am seeing.

However, what he’s already provided just fuels expectations, like no other Mets’ pitcher since Dwight Gooden.

Harvey’s early demeanor shows he can take it, but Wheeler remains not a concern, but a question. The feeling is the light will go on with him, too, but when?

Confidence can be fragile and you don’t want to see Wheeler labor as he has been. One hundred plus pitches should get Wheeler through seven innings, not just past the fourth.

However, the Mets chose to push the envelope with him, and times won’t always be easy. Barring something totally unforeseen, Wheeler isn’t going to see the minors again this year, or next.

It’s sink-or-swim, and so far he’s treading water.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 19

Matt Harvey Spins Into Damage Control

The New York Mets appear to have a prize in Matt Harvey. However, after reading the Men’s Journal story I had to wonder. He couldn’t have meant what he was quoted as saying, could he?

As far a being a Derek Jeter-wannabe, the context was strictly in the pursuing female sense, and as you know, the Yankee shortstop has a bit of a reputation. But, he is Teflon and nothing sticks to him. Harvey doesn’t have that, yet. He may never have it, but at least he’s proving he has the smarts to enter damage control.

HARVEY: Damage control alert.

HARVEY: Damage control alert.

Today, Harvey came out with this tweet: “It really sucks how words get used and completely taken out of context.’’

Yes, it does.

I don’t doubt it is an accurate quote, as these style interviews are usually recorded, but in reading the article there was precious little set-up as to the context of the quote. There didn’t appear to be an effort on the writer’s part to create the scene or ask a follow-up for clarification. It came off as a “money quote,’’ so let’s run with it.

And, if Harvey did try to clarify on the spot, there was no mention there, either.

Harvey isn’t yet a grown man, but he’s getting there. His determination on the mound and work ethic is admirable. It is what franchises want to build around. But, he’s still a young man learning on the fly.

Harvey is having a dream season and appears to love the trappings of being a young star in New York, arguably the best and worst city, in which to be a star. A tip off is having the tabloids chase him around town for photos of him kissing his girlfriend.

Hooray for his model girlfriend, who couldn’t have been happy reading the quotes. Maybe it was after hearing it from her he went into damage control, the way he bears down with runners in scoring position.

I am glad Harvey is trying to rectify things because being a hound isn’t a reputation he really wants. That is, unless he doesn’t mind the whispers or cares about the consequences. If nothing else, if he wants to prowl, at least carry a bullpen in his wallet, or as some athletes and celebrities are doing, carry a pre-sex contract.

It’s Harvey’ love life and he can do what he wants with it, but he would be prudent to calm things down a bit. Harvey isn’t Joe Namath, Walt Frazier or Jeter, for that matter. Not yet, anyway.

NFL great Jim Brown said nothing good happens after midnight, and it is true, especially if one is clubbing in New York. There are those that will always want a part of him, those with a cell phone camera, and athlete-hunting females. Stalking might be a better word.

If somebody on the Mets hasn’t already, they should tell him to tone it down. Somebody always wants a piece of a popular jock, and as composed as he appears on the mound, he’s shown vulnerability off it.

Personally, I don’t care whom Harvey sleeps with or what he drinks. I don’t care as long as it doesn’t interfere with his performance on the mound. So far, it hasn’t. Hopefully, he’s learned something here.

The Jimmy Fallon piece was hilarious, but it won’t be long before that anonymity is lost. And, after midnight is when he’s most likely to lose it.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos