LOS ANGELES — To hear Mickey Callaway tell it, Zack Wheeler’s success this season is a vicious cycle of effectiveness, confidence and hard work, each feeding off the other, combining for a breakout year for the onetime top prospect.
An early-season mechanical tweak led to Wheeler pitching better and helped him stay healthy. The health allowed him to stick to a between-starts routine, which further improved his on-field production. The success bred confidence, the confidence more desire to work, the work more success and so on.
The result: Wheeler is pitching better — and, perhaps just as notably, pitching deeper — than ever, including Wednesday in a 7-3 win over the Dodgers.
It’s the depth in particular that has impressed Callaway. Against Los Angeles, Wheeler allowed three runs in seven innings, the eighth time in 10 starts he has gone at least that long.
“That, in my opinion, is one of the hardest things to do in the major leagues, to go out there and pitch deep into the game as a starting pitcher,” Callaway said. “You don’t see a ton of guys every year hauling 200 innings and completing seven innings often. For him to make the adjustments he’s made and start being really effective and kind of breaking out, being the guy we think he can be, and to also be doing it deep into games . . . that’s very impressive in my eyes.”
Wednesday was also the first time since the All-Star break that Wheeler allowed more than two runs. He struck out nine and walked two, and with a 3.39 ERA is in a down-the-stretch duel with Noah Syndergaard (3.33) for second-best in the Mets’ rotation behind Jacob deGrom (1.68).
Wheeler attacked with more breaking balls than he normally throws, a strategy Callaway said the righthander employed to prevent the hard-swinging, homer-hitting Dodgers from sitting on one speed. “A little more separation speed-wise really is effective against this lineup, and he did a great job of executing the game plan, Callaway said.
Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger homered off Wheeler, who didn’t allow a baserunner until the fourth, when Justin Turner lined a single off Wheeler's chest. Callaway said X-rays were negative for Wheeler, who along with Kevin Plawecki (hit by a pitch on the ribs) went for a CT scan before the Mets’ red-eye flight back to New York.
The Mets backed Wheeler up with a well-rounded offensive effort, including multiple hits from six players to turn their tough road trip — through Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles — into a winning one at 5-4.
Amed Rosario went 3-for-5 — and almost had a fourth knock, but his first-inning infield single was overturned by a replay review. During his eight-game hit streak, Rosario is batting .459 with a 1.068 OPS.
About half of the Mets’ 11 hits against Hyun-Jin Ryu (six innings, five runs, three earned) were of the bloop variety.
“If you touch the ball sometimes, you have a better outcome than if you strike out,” Callaway said. “We did a lot of that tonight, just touching the ball and getting it just over their infielders and we won the game.”