Since the Mets’ lack of success on the field first dictated that they would be a trade-deadline seller, the notion of a deal involving Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard has dominated the headlines and airwaves. Less conspicuously, several contenders have sent scouts to look at Zack Wheeler. Their interest has to be at an all-time high after his performance on Saturday.
The righthander was borderline brilliant through seven innings before unraveling as he crossed the 100-pitch mark in the eighth in what ultimately became a 7-4 victory over the Nationals before 30,438 at Citi Field.
Wheeler’s final line showed him allowing four runs in a season-high 7 2⁄3 innings, but it should not diminish what he did during the first seven. With a fastball that touched 98 mph and a curve, slider and changeup that left him feeling “the best I have all season,” Wheeler held Washington to one run on 96 pitches.
Manager Mickey Callaway stuck with him into the eighth, in which he recorded two outs and gave up three runs. Matt Adams hit Wheeler’s 113th and final pitch just over the wall in rightfield for a two-run homer to narrow the margin to 7-4. Wheeler gave up eight hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.
The Mets scored three runs in the second inning and four in the fifth in a 10-hit assault. The big blow was a three-run home run by Michael Conforto, ending a drought of 50 at-bats that dated to June 26.
The Mets didn’t win any of their previous 13 series since a mid-May sweep of Arizona, but they can win this one against the Nats with a victory Sunday.
Wheeler knows he is a subject of trade speculation and appears indifferent. He was acquired from the Giants in the 2011 trade of Carlos Beltran and supposedly was going to Milwaukee with Wilmer Flores in a 2015 deal that reduced Flores to tears during a game but did not transpire.
“It’s in the back of my head, I guess. It’s not in the front,” Wheeler said. “You’ve just got to go out and pitch and worry about all that stuff later. If it happens, it happens. I want to be here, but we’re in a tough position right now. It’s not my call. I’ve been through it before. I’ve been traded. I’ve been fake- traded. I’ve pretty much been through it all.”
Callaway said he now sees in Wheeler the consistency and tenacious mentality that transforms good pitchers into great pitchers. It sounds as if he wouldn’t mind having one more season with him.
“He’s a very valuable asset,” Callaway said. “I feel like if you trade him, it really has to be worth it. He’s such a valuable piece to us right now, and the adjustments he’s made? I feel like those are going to stick . . . Wheeler is a pretty darn good pitcher.”
The victory was Wheeler’s first since April 29, but that’s deceiving. In the 13 starts before Saturday, he had nine no-decisions that included seven quality starts and two outings of seven scoreless innings.
Said Callaway: “It’s nice to get him a win. I think that’s his first win since April. He deserves about 10 of them. He’s done a great job.”
Wheeler, who is 3-6 with a 4.44 ERA, sees the interest in him from contenders as a compliment. “I feel like I am pitching a lot better than my numbers right now,” he said. “I feel comfortable. I’m feeling command. That’s a compliment right now.”
He even had a sacrifice fly in the second inning.
“He’s one of the guys that the organization had great expectations for,” Callaway said. “You were always looking for him to be the guy he is now.”