Greg Maddux. Tom Glavine. John Smoltz.
Growing up in the 1990s, a young baseball player in Georgia had the good fortune of being able to flip on a Braves game and watch an ace conduct a pitching clinic almost any day.
Zack Wheeler wasn't that kid.
"I'd watch some games, but I didn't have a favorite pitcher or anything," the Mets' fledgling righthander said Wednesday. "I didn't follow baseball all that much when I was growing up."
He does now -- particularly when Matt Harvey is on the mound. Wheeler has been as enthralled by the young ace as most of the Mets' fan base. At the edge of your seat -- stadium or living room -- during Harvey's starts? Wheeler does the same on the dugout bench.
"For me," Wheeler said, "it's fun watching him because we're sort of the same."
He meant in terms of pitching repertoire and raw talent. Both feature mid-90s fastballs along with a slider and changeup. But Harvey already has mastered the finer points of pitching, many of which Wheeler, 23, still is picking up. Which is why those Harvey starts have become somewhat of a weekly tutorial for the rookie.
"I sit there and watch him and try to learn new things," Wheeler said.
Class was in session last night, as Harvey pitched his first career shutout against the Rockies in a 5-0 win. He threw 78 of his 106 pitches for strikes.
Wheeler's 3.73 ERA is solid but certainly would be lower with improved control and a more aggressive approach. He has walked 28 in 502/3 innings. In contrast, Harvey has issued 29 walks in 23 starts.
"[Harvey and I] have little talks here and there," Wheeler said. "Mostly about going right after guys."
That's something manager Terry Collins also has implored him to do, particularly after his last start, a 6-2 loss to the Royals Sunday in which Wheeler imploded in the fifth inning after his defense betrayed him.
"I think when Zack Wheeler is watching Matt Harvey pitch, one of the things he should see is, at this level, you have to be able to make pitches with your secondary stuff in certain situations," Collins said Tuesday. "One thing Matt has stayed away from is deep counts and walking guys. For the most part, he really trusts his stuff and tries to throw strikes with it."
For as long as they are Mets, the two pitchers will be compared, and Harvey this season has set the bar quite high for his understudy. Wheeler insisted the internal competition is good for his development.
"You try to push yourself a little more," he said. "Of course we're friends and all, but you try to go out there and beat the guy."
So, Matt Harvey, Wheeler sees your complete-game shutout and raises you a . . .
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