PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Zack Wheeler’s audition to win a rotation spot got off to a fast start Friday with a strong one-inning performance that felt more like an opening statement.
Wheeler’s first pitch was a low 94-mph fastball that the Braves’ Ozzie Albies golfed into centerfield for a single. But he responded with a pair of strikeouts and featured a fastball in the mid-90s, with a peak of 97, in the 15-pitch outing.
As the rotation stacks up now, Wheeler likely sits in the No. 6 spot, but he’s trying to keep the depth chart out of his mind, including any talk about ending up in the bullpen come Opening Day.
“Just go out there and pitch like I know how, basically,” Wheeler said. “When I’m healthy, I know what I can do. I know what I’m capable of. Keep my head down, just go out there and pitch when they need me to, try to get my pitch count up, throw good quality strikes, get ahead of hitters. Just work off of that.”
The Mets will be happy with that. On the same day that Dominic Smith got himself benched by showing up late, Wheeler behaved like a player serious about winning a job, which is all new manager Mickey Callaway could have hoped for.
“He looked really good,” Callaway said. “He was really getting after it.”
Wheeler said Callaway approached him this week and told him not to worry about potential roles for now.
“We just talked about throwing good quality strikes,” Wheeler said. “And staying healthy.”
Matt Harvey faced Tim Tebow in his live batting practice session Friday. Tebow took only three swings but belted a solid line drive to right-centerfield that could have been a double — or a flyout, if Juan Lagares had been there to chase it down in the gap . . . Brandon Nimmo went 0-for-2 in the leadoff spot, grounding into a double play in the Mets’ 6-2 win over the Braves . . . Seth Lugo starts Saturday against the Cardinals at First Data Field.