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 24

Jeremy Hefner Trying To Rebound From Last Start

It is amazing how a team starts getting greedy when it starts playing better. For example, had Bobby Parnell not blown Monday’s save opportunity they would be trying tonight to clinch this series with Atlanta.

After being 15 games under .500, the Mets are again eight below. Several times they’ve been here, but unable to reach seven and get on a roll that would legitimatize their prospects of a successful season.

HEFNER: Trying to rebound after mauling by Phillies. (AP)

HEFNER: Trying to rebound after mauling by Phillies. (AP)

Jeremy Hefner, who sizzled going into the break, was hammered by Philadelphia last Friday. Hefner has 13 quality starts to highlight a staff with a 3.20 ERA since May 26. Collectively, the staff has given up four earned runs in the last 36 innings, or since Hefner’s game coming out of the break.

Here’s tonight’s lineup:

Eric Young, LF: Is 2-for-18 on the homestand. Has .280 average since joining Mets.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Hitting just .244 at Citi Field.

David Wright, 3B: Hitting .350 since the break. Ranks fifth in the NL with a .395 on-base percentage.

Marlon Byrd, RF: Leads the Mets with 17 homers.

Ike Davis, 1B: Hitting .385 on the homestand, but only .191 at home for the season.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF: Batting just .192 with RISP.

Anthony Recker, C: Has five homers, four of which have either tied the game or given the Mets the lead.

Omar Quintanilla, SS: Only 1-for-15 on the homestand, and batting .122 over his last 12 games.

Jeremy Hefner, RHP: Is 0-1 with a 5.85 ERA in three career games against Atlanta.

GAME NOTES: Mets are 6-4 in their last ten games. … The Mets have come from behind 22 times to win. … Since Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler combined in a doubleheader sweep of the Braves, June 18, the Mets are 19-12, for the best record in the NL East. Philly and Miami are each 15-14, the Braves are 14-16 and Washington is 14-17. … The Mets’ bullpen has a 2.45 ERA in eight July games. The pen has 13 blown save opportunities. … Scott Rice hasn’t given up a run in 13 of his last 14 appearances. … Eight inherited runners have scored off Scott Atchison, the most on the team. … Tonight will be the Mets’ 74th different batting order in 97 games. … Wright’s next homer will be his 220th, to tie Mike Piazza for second in club history. Darryl Strawberry is first with 252. … The Mets are 7-8 in walk-off games.

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 20

Zack Wheeler Tries To Get Mets On-Track

Well, so much for that fast start out of the second-half gate for the New York Mets.

That great ERA Jeremy Hefner was sporting going into the game? Not so much anymore. The Phillies nailed him for eight runs on ten hits. The carnage was accumulated over 63 pitches, 38 of them in the first inning.

HEFNER: Hammered by Phils, again. (AP)

HEFNER: Hammered by Phils, again. (AP)

The first inning and the Phillies have not been a good mix to Hefner over the years, and before you knew it, the Mets were down 11-0.

Terry Collins tried to put a positive spin on the rout.

“I’ll tell you what, down 11-0, make it a game, pretty impressive by our guys,’’ Collins told reporters after the game, most of who had their storied written by the fifth inning.

Uh huh. Forty years in the game should know by now there are no morale victories in baseball. Few of them, anyway, and last night wasn’t one of them.

Unfortunately for the Mets, them chopping away at the lead provided the illusion there was a chance, and consequently Collins had to go to his bullpen for seven innings.

Otherwise, Collins might have left Hefner in to take his lumps for the team to save the bullpen.

Either way, it was a hot, muggy miserable night, one better spent watching The Great Escape on the Military Channel.

Nonetheless, it is only one game and the Mets have their two of their best, Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey, going the next two games of this series. After that, it’s four more home games at home against Atlanta before hitting the road to Washington and Miami before the trade deadline.

So, there’s plenty of time for the Mets to make a run at .500 and make the second half of this season worthy of watching. The last four years after the break effectively ended the competitive part of their season.

Was there anything good out of last night’s game?

Juan Lagares had a good at-bat and Ike Davis had a couple of hits. Kirk Nieuwenhuis looked like Mr. Magoo in center field. Other than that, not too much.

I wasn’t crazy about Collins’ managing last night. David Wright did homer in the ninth, but after a busy All-Star break, he should have been pulled and given a rest. The same goes for John Buck, who cramped up.

Here’s today’s lineup against Cole Hamels:

Eric Young, LF

Daniel Murphy, 2B

David Wright, 3B

Marlon Byrd, RF

Josh Satin, 1B

Juan Lagares, CF

Anthony Recker, C

Omar Quintanilla, SS

Zack Wheeler, RHP

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