Jacob deGrom undeniably is the Mets’ ace. But Zack Wheeler is winning games.
The Mets snapped a four-game losing streak on Saturday night as Wheeler won his fourth straight start — the first time in his career he’s done so — with a 3-0 victory over the Braves before a Citi Field crowd of 36,946 on Noah Syndergaard Thor bobblehead night.
“My command is a lot better this year and it makes it a whole lot easier,” Wheeler (6-6) said after allowing three hits, striking out nine and walking one in seven impressive innings. He threw 73 of his 104 pitches for strikes.
His outing was similar to deGrom’s the night before in a 2-1 loss to the Braves. DeGrom (5-7) saw his Cy Young Award-worthy ERA rise slightly to 1.85 after allowing two runs, six hits and one walk with nine strikeouts in eight innings.
The difference, of course, is that the Mets (45-63) gave Wheeler some run support and the bullpen held the lead. Jeff McNeil, the Mets’ 26-year-old rookie, went 4-for-4.
“Within this last month, he’s coming into his own,” said Robert Gsellman, who retired all four batters he faced for his sixth save. “I knew it’d come one day and I’m just happy I could have his back today.”
Wheeler, the first Mets starter to win four straight this season, has not lost since June 22 after missing 2015 and 2016 following Tommy John surgery and a good portion of last season with arm trouble.
“I knew what I could do if I was healthy,” said Wheeler, who struck out the side in the first inning and did not allow a hit until Freddie Freeman’s one-out single in the fourth.
Wheeler showed a commitment to attacking the strike zone instead of nibbling, as was the case in the past. He battled back from a 2-and-0 count on Nick Markakis to strike him out on nine pitches in the fourth. Markakis fouled off five straight pitches before swinging at an 89-mph splitter.
“He’s one of the better hitters in the league and Wheeler’s been one of the better pitchers in the league the last month, two months,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “There might have been a time where maybe he’d get a little too pitchy, trying to throw a sinker down and away.”
The Mets also supported Wheeler defensively.
McNeil turned nicely on shortstop Amed Rosario’s toss to get Dansby Swanson at first for an inning-ending double play in the fifth. In the sixth, first baseman Wilmer Flores dived to his left to smother Ozzie Albies’ liner down the line before running to the bag to make the final out.
With two outs in the seventh, rightfielder Brandon Nimmo ran in and dived to catch Ender Inciarte’s sinking liner. That prevented Freeman, who had led off with a double, from scoring.
Wheeler has gone at least seven innings in three of his last four starts. “I saw the same stuff, the same power fastball, the same good break on his slider,” Callaway said.
The Mets scored twice in the sixth for a 3-0 lead after Michael Conforto, Todd Frazier and McNeil started the inning with singles to load the bases, knocking out righthander Kevin Gausman (5-9). He allowed six hits, walked two and struck out two. Austin Jackson greeted Shane Carle with a run-scoring single off the reliever’s leg and Frazier scored on Kevin Plawecki’s sacrifice fly.
Callaway allowed Wheeler to bat with runners on first and second, but he hit an inning-ending grounder to first.
“He had electric stuff still and I wanted to keep him in the game as long as possible,” Callaway said.
Frazier scored the first run in the second after Gausman hit him with a 3-and-2 splitter to lead off the inning. Frazier danced down the third-base line, then broke for home when Johan Camargo threw to first on Rosario’s one-out grounder.
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