In what has turned into a lost season for the Mets, along with the brilliance of Jacob deGrom, one of the few brights spots is right-handed starter Zack Wheeler. In a 3-0 victory over the Nationals on Saturday, Wheeler was dominant once again as he threw seven shutout innings, allowing six hits, three walks and struck out four on 109 pitches. Wheeler has found himself as a reliable and dominant starting pitcher when so many people were willing to give up on the righty at the start of the regular season.
In his last eight starts, he is 7-0 and has allowed more than two runs just once during the dominant stretch.
You have to remember, this is the same 28-year-old that did not start the season with the team as he pitched to an 8.10 ERA during spring training and was demoted to Las Vegas. He started the year in triple-A and pitched at that level for the first time since 2013. Pitching coach Dave Eiland said at the time that Wheeler just did not get the job done and did not earn a spot in the rotation to begin the season. But added that Wheeler knew what he needed to work on and said when Wheeler pitches to his capabilities, we are a better team and that is showing itself to be the case.
If you recall, Wheeler was all quite ticked off when the organization decided to sign free-agent Jason Vargas in the off-season because he felt that signing was not necessary. He did not want to pitch out of the bullpen and viewed himself as a starter. He quickly backtracked the next day, but added that when he is healthy, he is as good as anyone out there and he is certainly proving that this season.
Wheeler believed in himself at the time and is starting to make believers out of everyone else right now.
In 17 games a year ago, he threw over 86 innings while posting a 3-7 record with a 5.21 ERA before being shut down to protect his arm. This year there has been a drastic difference as he has posted a 9-6 record while making 25 starts with a 3.46 ERA in over 153 innings of work. The walks are down as he has shown to have better control. He has struck out 150 batters with just 50 walks. He trusts his stuff as he no longer nibbles and attacks the strike zone and dares hitters to do something with it.
It is great to see when a young pitcher finally finds himself and he finally trusts himself and his ‘stuff’. The confidence starts to match the talent and the injuries are no longer the main talking point. His velocity is up and the results are following and with the help of Eiland and manager Mickey Callaway, Wheeler has found himself and he, along with staff ace Jacob DeGrom, have become must-see TV. As baseball is defined by individual success within the team concept, you can still have breakout years when meaningful baseball is a distant memory. Mets starter Zack Wheeler is one of those stories in 2018.
Is the pressure of meaningful games on his shoulders? No, not at all. But he had greater individual pressure this season as he tried to establish himself as a reliable and dominant starting pitcher and he has done that. He needed to rebuild his career and in doing so, he might provide a solution for the Mets in the rotation in 2019 and beyond. Or maybe, he becomes a trade piece that enables the Mets the solve other issues on their major league roster this offseason.
However it turns out, Zack Wheeler found himself when many people were ready to turn the page and that is something that is great to see and easy to root for.