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Mets' Zack Wheeler working on honing his craft

Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler checks the scoreboard

Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler checks the scoreboard after the top of the fourth on Saturday, June 14, 2014. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Zack Wheeler has progressed well in the last seven weeks, offering the Mets more consistent glimpses of his immense potential. It's to the point now that Terry Collins can't help being absolutely effusive when discussing his young righthander.

But Wheeler, 24, believes he has to go back to the drawing board this offseason. He essentially verbalized a "need to do" list Thursday:

"Going right after guys every time."

"Having better concentration."

"Changing how I attack the strike zone."

"Keeping my pitch count down and getting deeper into games."

The mindset of an aspiring ace: an acknowledgment that "good enough" isn't good enough.

"My ball moves a lot naturally and I haven't grasped how to completely control that yet," said Wheeler, blunt in critiquing himself. He has walked 58 batters in 1401/3 innings. "When you don't have pinpoint control, you're going to have guys on base. That being the case, I've got to be able to work out of jams and fix myself."

He already has gotten better at identifying and quickly correcting mechanical flaws while on the mound, catcher Anthony Recker said.

Wheeler has strung together eight consecutive quality starts, the longest such streak in his two big-league seasons.

In those eight starts, Wheeler -- who starts Friday night against the Cubs -- is 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA, 44 strikeouts and 43 hits allowed in 511/3 innings, lowering his ERA from 4.45 to 3.53.

Fortune has been a factor; to an extent, Wheeler was a victim of bad luck earlier this season. He was inducing more ground balls than he did as a rookie but was giving up more runs. Of late, though, Wheeler said, "more of those ground balls are starting to go at people instead of finding holes."

Against Wheeler, 53 percent of balls put in play have been grounders and only 19 percent have been line drives, down 4 percent from last season.

"I've been really impressed with the major changes he's made both on the delivery side, but I think his mental approach is really good," Collins said. "If there's something else he needs to change, I'm glad he's got a finger on it."

Wheeler has five fingers on it, actually. His fastball -- which averages 94.9 mph -- has good movement, as do his curveball and slider. But he's still learning to harness them.

"What I need to get better at is not trying to hit the corners as much and going for the thirds of the plate," he said. "Just let the ball move from there."

And if all this goes as he plans?

"You want to be the best and you believe you can be," Wheeler said. "I've gotten better from last year and now I have to take the next step."

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