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Mets’ Zack Wheeler struggles early but keeps game in reach

Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler looks on from the

Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler looks on from the dugout against the Athletics at Citi Field on July 22, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Zack Wheeler will be the first person to tell you he hasn’t been productive enough on the mound.

“How I’ve been pitching lately isn’t acceptable,” said Wheeler, after allowing five runs on seven hits and four walks in five innings Saturday night. “I expect a lot better out of myself.”

Wheeler got off to a rough start, allowing four runs in the first inning — including a leadoff home run to Matt Joyce on the second pitch of the game — as eight Athletics came to the plate. It didn’t get much better to start the second after he walked the pitcher, Sean Manaea, to start the frame.

“It’s just he’s leaving balls in the middle of the plate and he’s getting hurt by it,” manager Terry Collins said. “The base on balls have hurt him in some situations.”

But Wheeler’s ability to limit the damage early and the Mets’ late offensive outburst kept Wheeler from picking up the loss, as the Mets defeated Oakland, 6-5, on Wilmer Flores’ walk-off home run in the ninth inning Saturday night.

And Collins was sure to compliment Wheeler on his part in keeping the game within reach.

“Zack Wheeler could have let that game get out of control and did not after the first inning,” Collins said. “That was one of the parts I told him when I took him out. I know we’re down 5-0, but you kept it 5-0. He didn’t look up and they had eight or nine, you kept it at five and it allowed us to get back in the game.”

Wheeler, whose ERA rose to 5.21, is coming off a complicated two-year Tommy John surgery as he continues to work to feel more comfortable on the mound.

“There’s that mental side of it, too, of being out there like he is now after not doing it for two years,” Collins said. “It’s a tough adjustment but you got to take a good look at getting back because his stuff is too good to get hit like that but I tell you what, I tip my hat to him. He kept us in the game.”

Oakland’s final run came when Wheeler left a 1-and-2 pitch over the middle of the plate, resulting in Matt Chapman’s third-inning home run. Wheeler said he feels like he’s been struggling with his fastball command, but felt good with his offspeed pitches Saturday night, especially the slider and changeup.

“Sometimes I just don’t execute,” Wheeler said, “and it causes me trouble.”

Wheeler has shown spurts this season of why he was a No. 6 overall pick by the Giants and acquired by the Mets in a trade for Carlos Beltran, including pitching to a 2.74 ERA in four May starts.

Wheeler said he doesn’t try altering much during times of struggle, but relies on what has made him successful in the sport.

“I just like to trust my athletic ability to sort of put me back at the right spot,” Wheeler said. “And I think I’ve been thinking a little bit too much lately and I’m just going to get back to throwing the ball and trusting my stuff.”

New York Sports