Zack Wheeler once was the odd man out.
In a rotation with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey (remember him?), Wheeler was a question mark to be relegated to the bullpen or to the minors, a pitcher with once-electric stuff hampered by injury and perhaps self-doubt.
That’s the Wheeler who was sent down, but that’s not the Wheeler who came back. And after Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Nationals — courtesy of seven shutout innings by their starter — the Mets are becoming increasingly confident that the old Wheeler is gone for good.
“I hope this is who he is. I think he could be this,” Mickey Callaway said. “He’s always going to have to concentrate on all those adjustments, but from a feeling the team gets when he’s on the mound, absolutely — we feel like deGrom is on the mound or Syndergaard is on the mound. He’s in that category now where you wake up in the morning [and say] we have Wheeler now. We’re going to have a good game.”
Wheeler — who struggled with his fastball command but, in a hallmark of his newfound confidence, managed to bounce back time after time — allowed six hits with three walks, four strikeouts and a hit batsman over 109 pitches. He won his career-best seventh straight decision and hasn’t lost in 11 starts, holding a 1.88 ERA in that time. He’s tied for the longest active winning streak in the majors.
“I didn’t have my best stuff and maybe in years past, it wouldn’t have gone so well, but I feel so good mechanically and in sync and being able to repeat that type of stuff that I can sort of lock back in and go after” the batter,” Wheeler said. “I still have the confidence out there [where] I still feel like I can make my pitch when I need to.”
Amed Rosario hit a home run off Tanner Roark, his seventh of the year, in the sixth to give the Mets a 1-0 lead. Todd Frazier added a solo shot of his own in the seventh. Michael Conforto’s single drove in Rosario in the ninth.
The woebegone Nationals, meanwhile, haven’t scored a run in 27 straight innings and fell to two games under .500 — meaning that though this Mets season is over in all but name, this team can still stick it to their old rivals, who are in great danger of missing the playoffs.
“You can feel it — there’s a lot of energy,” Callaway said of beating the Nationals. “You feel that little bit of an extra of, ‘Hey let’s go.’ And it should be there. I think that’s what keeps you going and it makes those games really fun.”
Wheeler certainly helped add to the Nationals’ frustration.
With the bases loaded and one out in the third, he got noted Mets-killer Anthony Rendon to pop out to short, and Juan Soto grounded to Rosario for the force at second. With one out in the fifth, Wheeler allowed a single by Adam Eaton and walked Trea Turner before inducing Bryce Harper to hit into a double play.
“I feel like I’m to the point where it’s becoming every start, but I need to keep it going . . . and keep pushing myself to get better,” Wheeler said. “[I want to get to] the point where you can go out there and just dominate rather than just go out there and do well.”
That might have been a lofty task for the Wheeler of old, but for Wheeler 2.0, it’s business as usual.
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