CHICAGO - Zack Wheeler spent considerable time before his start Tuesday night with his head buried in his locker. Shielded from view, he held in his hands an iPad, which he used to analyze video of the White Sox.
But he could have spent a week scrutinizing the tape and it wouldn't have made a difference for Wheeler, who ultimately betrayed himself in the Mets' 5-4 loss to the White Sox.
"There's a definite difference in the arm angles on his different pitches," said Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen, who explained why the White Sox oftentimes knew what was coming.
It's part of the reason why Wheeler allowed four runs on four hits in 5 1/3 innings. It's why the White Sox laid off tough pitches they might have otherwise been more likely to chase. And it's why Wheeler came away with only one strikeout.
Said Warthen: "They took a lot of good breaking balls, so there's a good chance they recognized it early."
Wheeler was spared his first big-league loss only because the White Sox failed to catch Daniel Murphy's pop up in the ninth inning. It would have been the final out of the game.
Instead, the ball fell between second baseman Gordon Beckham and third baseman Conor Gillaspie. David Wright scored the tying run from second base, which deprived White Sox lefty Chris Sale of a victory on a night in which he struck out 13 in eight strong innings.
However, the Sox rallied in the ninth off LaTroy Hawkins, who failed to field a bunt before surrendering Alexei Ramirez's game-winning hit down the leftfield line.
Of course, avoiding the loss was of little consolation for Wheeler. "Bad," he said of his performance. "Didn't throw a lot of strikes, and when I did, they were bad strikes. The balls were up."
As he did in his debut, Wheeler flashed the fastballs that make him such a highly touted prospect, though he struggled at times commanding them. Before the fans could settle in at U.S. Cellular Field, Wheeler lit up the scoreboard with readings that topped out at 98 mph.
But he endured mixed results with his breaking pitches.
Wheeler snapped off a few filthy curveballs, dropping them in for strikes. But Wheeler also left a slider hanging over the heart of the plate, which Tyler Flowers tagged for a solo homer, the first allowed in his brief big league career.
Twice, Wheeler lost leads that the Mets had given him, first 2-0 before letting a 3-2 cushion slip away.
In the fifth, Wheeler threw a wild pitch to put runners on second and third with nobody out, and they took advantage.
Alejandro De Aza knocked in the tying run with a groundout. Ramirez put the White Sox ahead 4-3 on a sacrifice fly.
In the sixth, Wheeler allowed a leadoff double, then was spared another run when Marlon Byrd made a diving catch in rightfield. With one out and a runner on third, Wheeler issued a walk to Gillaspie, his final batter of the night.
Through it all, Wheeler showed the telltale signs of tipping his pitches. Collins noticed that White Sox kept alive several at-bats by fouling off tough offerings, which led to deep counts and an elevated pitch count.
All of it made for a difficult night for Wheeler, who tossed six shutout innings in his debut. Said Wheeler: "Everybody goes over some bumps."
Now, the challenge for Wheeler is overcoming those bumps. And to Warthen, the first step involves learning to disguise what's coming.
"It's hard to stay consistent if you have a different angle on every pitch," Warthen said. "It's something we'll have to work on and see if we can fix it."