Mets believe Zack Wheeler is tipping his pitches
CHICAGO -- The education of Zack Wheeler began with a realization:
Life as a pitcher gets a whole lot tougher when the hitters know what's coming.
The Mets believe that the 23-year-old phenom has been tipping his pitches. In particular, they are concerned that opposing hitters can tell which pitch is coming because Wheeler has used varying arm angles.
"It's just an easy fix," Wheeler said. "It's nothing big."
Manager Terry Collins said Wheeler's issues are correctable. Pitching coach Dan Warthen has already started the process of cleaning up the issue, perhaps by the time Wheeler makes his home debut on Sunday against the Nationals.
Following Tuesday night's game, which was Wheeler's second big-league start, Collins said he was hit with a flood of text messages and voice mails from friends around the game. All of them were quick to point out that Wheeler may have been telegraphing his pitches.
However, Collins said the Mets saw signs of possible pitch tipping in Atlanta during Wheeler's major-league debut. But in that case, Collins said Wheeler made good enough pitches with his fastball to get away with it.
Wheeler tossed six shutout innings against the Braves.
Against the White Sox, the righthander enjoyed no such leeway, allowing four runs in 5 1/3 innings. Of course, with Wheeler essentially giving hitters a sneak preview, the results could have been much worse.
Said Collins: "That shows you what kind of stuff he's got, it really does."
In retrospect, Wheeler offered signs that the White Sox had picked up on a pattern. He finished with just one strikeout. Of his 103 pitches, only five enticed a swing and miss, as the White Sox laid off tough breaking pitches.
"It's little stuff that players take advantage of here," Wheeler said. "They're smart players and they're up here for a reason. So they're going to take advantage of every little thing. They're going to pick you apart. It's a little bit tougher up here. You've got to get better every day so you can compete."
Collins noticed that the White Sox kept at-bats alive by fouling pitches off, another telltale sign that Wheeler might have sabotaged his chances. Said Collins: "Again, when you start getting deep in counts and they have a hint of what's coming, they're going to lay off some close pitches if they have an idea of what the pitch is going to be."
However, Wheeler said he wasn't aware during the game that he was tipping his pitches. Collins said that the Mets hesitated to ask Wheeler to make major changes in the middle of a game for fear of making the problem worse.
Wheeler didn't help himself by overthrowing. "The ball wasn't coming out smoothly and I felt like I was muscling all my pitches," Wheeler said. "It's tough to have your top confidence when you feel like you're up there trying to muscle past guys instead of it just coming out of your hands nice and easy. I was trying to overthrow because of that probably."
Nevertheless, one talent evaluator in attendance said Wheeler showed plenty of poise, even as the White Sox gave him trouble. "With [stuff] like that, just let him pitch," the scout said. "He'll figure it out. That's why you let them play."