Jul 18

Mets Wrap: Wheeler Unravels In Loss; Gets No Help From Pen

Sometimes too much is made of baseball’s specialized statistics, but one of them speaks volumes of the Mets’ Zack Wheeler. It all fell apart for Wheeler in the Cardinals’ six-run sixth inning, which raised his ERA for that particular inning this year to a lofty 13.50.

WHEELER: Sixth inning blues. (AP)

WHEELER: Sixth inning blues. (AP)

Outside of injuries that sidelined him for the past two years, what has primarily prevented Wheeler from reaching stardom has been high pitch counts, often culminating into hitting a wall in the sixth inning.

Such was the case again tonight, as Wheeler cruised through four innings, but things began to unravel in the fifth, and he completely lost it in the sixth, highlighted by a two-run homer by Paul DeJong and a RBI double by pitcher Adam Wainwright.

As puzzling as Wheeler has been was manager Terry Collins’ decision to send him out for the sixth inning, considering he walked the bases loaded in the fifth.

“He certainly didn’t look tired or like he was laboring,’’ Collins said.

Wheeler said he lost the feel for his curveball and it wasn’t spinning out of his hand the way it should.

Asdrubal Cabrera robbed Jedd Gyorko of a two-run single to get out of the inning. Instead of being grateful, Collins pushed the envelope with Wheeler in the sixth.

Collins not only made a mistake in trusting Wheeler, but compounded it by keeping him in after DeJong’s homer, and doubled down on that mistake by bringing in Hansel Robles, who promptly gave up a three-run to Tommy Phan.

“It was my fault,’’ said Wheeler, who was stand-up and refused to throw his bullpen under the bus. “I should have made my pitches and gotten out of it.’’

Wheeler gave up four runs on seven hits and four walks in 5.1 innings and has gone eight straight starts without a victory.

So, after routing Colorado in the first two games coming out of the All-Star break, Mets’ pitchers Steven Matz and Wheeler were routed themselves.

“You can’t go on a run if you don’t get consistent pitching,’’ said Collins, stating the obvious.

Meanwhile, prior to the game, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey played catch on flat ground. Both were pleased, but it was only catch.

Of course, what Collins couldn’t say is he stuck with Wheeler and went to Robles because GM Sandy Alderson gave him no other alternative.

Jul 01

Wheeler Needs To Step It Up

It’s now three early exits in a row for the Mets’ Zack Wheeler. Because today’s came in his first start coming off the disabled list, he’ll get a pass along with a no-decision in the Mets’ 7-6 victory over the Phillies.

Wheeler lasted 3.2 innings – two runs on two hits and two walks – but in that time threw 82 pitches, of which 47 were strikes. The two walks came after his own error.

WHEELER:  No pain in return from DL. (AP)

WHEELER: No pain in return from DL. (AP)

“Physically felt fine,’’ Wheeler told reporters in answering the most important question. “I struggled a little bit, of course, but I feel like I’m on the right track. I feel a little better mechanically and stuff like that.’’

Manager Terry Collins said Wheeler’s ceiling was for 90 pitches, which should be good enough for seven innings. Collins said 3.2 innings won’t cut it.

“We’ve got to get him through those [innings],’’ Collins said. “We’ve got to get him over that hump, where something like that [error] happens, we’ve got to get out of that inning right now.

“Obviously, due to the fact he hadn’t pitched for a while, he might have been a tad fatigued.’’

With the victory, the Mets have won seven of their last eight games to move to four games under .500. With the Nationals losing to St. Louis, the Mets are 8.5 games behind.  If the Mets win Sunday, they’ll be three games under .500 when they go to Washington for the start of a three-game series.

If the Mets do what they hope in Washington, they’ll officially be in a pennant race, and they’ll need Wheeler to pitch the way he did prior to his two disastrous starts – 15 runs and 3.2 total innings – before going on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis.

He knows what’s at stake.

“I wasn’t sharp before [the DL],’’ Wheeler said. “It’s three bad starts in a row and I have to pick it up. Like I said, I think I’m on the right direction right now. It really didn’t show today, but personally, I feel like I’m in the right direction. Hopefully next start I can turn it around.’’

Mar 06

Despite Encouraging Signs Mets Must Be Cautious With Wheeler

Hopefully, the other shoe won’t fall for the Mets’ Zack Wheeler, who hasn’t pitched in nearly two years because of elbow issues. He’s back to throwing batting practice, and Sunday clocked out at 93 mph. Most importantly, however, is he left the mound feeling no pain.

WHEELER: Take your time. (AP)

WHEELER: Take your time. (AP)

If he can stay setback free for the rest of the week, he’ll start Friday against the Braves. It seems like forever, when Wheeler and Matt Harvey stuffed the Braves in a doubleheader. Then came Tommy John surgery in 2015 and a myriad of setbacks that has Wheeler wondering.

“I kind of feel like I’m waiting for a setback, but everything is going good,” Wheeler told reporters. “I feel good about it. Everything was coming out of my hand nice today. It definitely felt better than last time.”

When the Mets see Wheeler, they envision their Golden Arms Rotation, that when healthy has the potential to be one of baseball’s best. But, they’ve never been healthy together, with Wheeler, Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom all coming off surgery. Noah Syndergaard pitched through a painful bone spur in his elbow, otherwise, there would have been five coming off the knife.

Although Wheeler said he feels good, he added he’s not there, yet.

“I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent letting it go,” Wheeler said. “But I’m 90- to 95-percent effort, breaking off curveballs and sliders. It feels good.”

Even if he’s full strength, don’t bet on Wheeler making the Opening Day roster as the Mets are figuring a limit of 110 innings and currently have eschewed the up-and-down risk of working him out of the bullpen. So, the prudent plan would be to let him build himself up with an extended spring training, then possibly bring him up in late May or early June when the weather is warmer.

In previous seasons the Mets had Bartolo Colon to eat up innings. This year they have Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, so there’s no sense in forcing this.

Feb 27

Wheeler Must Remember He’s Not Harvey

The longest journey begins with a single step and the Mets’ Zack Wheeler took his first today with ten throws off the front of the mound. It was his first time throwing off an incline since he underwent Tommy John surgery, last March 25.

“As small as it was, it’s a big milestone,” Wheeler told reporters. “Even if it was like seven throws off the front of the mound, it’s still feet on the dirt, getting back off the slope a little bit. It might be small, but it’s big for me.”

WHEELER: Takes important step. (Getty)

WHEELER: Takes important step. (Getty)

The most important words from that thought are, “for me.”

The target date for Wheeler’s return is July 1, which is roughly 15 months, the same as it was for Matt Harvey. While the Mets’ plan for Wheeler is the duplicate of Harvey’s, Wheeler must remember he’s not Harvey.

What worked for Harvey might not work for Wheeler. Harvey had a longer than normal rehab, but Wheeler’s could be even longer. He has a different body type than Harvey. Although they had the same surgery, perhaps their injuries weren’t identical.

Everybody’s body is different and the recovery process is unique. Fortunately, Wheeler appears to have grasped that concept: “Well, everybody is different in their comebacks. I know Steven Matz had some problems coming back. And Harv and Jacob deGrom, they did pretty well coming back. So it’s a process. It’s different with everybody. Everybody reacts differently to the surgery.”

He says that now, but let’s hope he remembers it in June if his recovery has a setback or two. And, if he’s not back by early July, well, that’s fine, also. The most important thing is Wheeler eventually pitches again without pain.

Whenever that is.

Mar 09

Wheeler Struggles With Same Old Problems

It is a measure of our expectations of the Mets’ Zack Wheeler that we are disappointed when he pitches poorly – even less than two innings in an exhibition game.

Wheeler entered spring training with a checklist of issues to work on, including command, not letting things bother him, and learning how to work out of trouble.

WHEELER: Same old problems.

WHEELER: Same old problems.

So, what can we take from him getting ripped by the Marlins, 13-2, Monday? Saying it is early doesn’t really cut it.

His numbers don’t mean much with the exception of one – 47 pitches. That’s way too many, as normally that many pitches should take you to, if not through, the fourth inning.

“Honestly, it’s early for everybody,’’ Wheeler told reporters. “But, I was supposed to throw to one side of the plate and it was on the other. That’s always hard to call a strike. You and I both know that if you’re not consistent, it’s harder to get strikes.’’

That’s what happened in the second inning – and defines his fatal flaw.

After a perfect, 10-pitch first, things unraveled in an excruciatingly hard-to-watch 1.2 innings, when he walked two, hit two, gave up two hits and six runs.

You can argue it would have been better if not for a controversial umpire’s call when Jordany Valdespin – of all people – was called safe at first when replays clearly showed he was out.

That is irrelevant, because if Wheeler is to reach the next level, he must learn to slam the door when he gets in of trouble. Yes, a call went against him, but good pitchers overcome such things. They happen, just as broken-bat bloop hits and fielding errors. A good pitcher doesn’t let such things get to him.

As the inning unfolded, so did his command, and 47 pitches in two innings is a wasted start. Actually, it was reminiscent of when he got into trouble last season.

Wheeler was 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA last year and threw 185.1 innings. Wheeler averages nine strikeouts per nine innings, which is ace worthy. However, his four walks per nine innings is something that must be reduced – by at least half.

Depending on whom you talk with, Wheeler’s stuff might be better than Harvey’s. Command is a different issue. Wheeler must improve his control, and doing so would enable him to work deeper into games. In 32 starts last year, Wheeler worked into the seventh only 13 times. He also threw 100 pitches 24 times and 110 pitches 13 times.

If Wheeler is to be evolve into the pitcher the Mets hope, that must change.