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Zack Wheeler enjoys best start in spring training, then gets props from Pedro Martinez

New York Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler throws during

New York Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler throws during spring training baseball practice on Feb. 14, 2019, in Port St. Lucie, Fla.  Credit: AP/Jeff Roberson

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Zack Wheeler was mid-sentence, surrounded by reporters, when a long arm poked through the crowd to shake his hand.

It was Pedro Martinez, in full uniform, just one No. 45 showing respect to another. And after Wheeler shut down the Red Sox’s “A’’ lineup Saturday at JetBlue Park, he appreciated the congrats from the Hall of Famer.

“He’s one of the best,” Wheeler said, still smiling. “I watched him a lot growing up. To get that stamp of approval is pretty cool.”

Wheeler earned it Saturday, allowing one hit in four scoreless innings, the perfect bounce-back to his two previous lackluster Grapefruit League starts. He struck out three — including Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez — and didn’t give up a walk.

Spring training numbers typically don’t mean much, but to dominate the world champs felt a bit special. Wheeler sort of needed that sensation again, to know he could be the same pitcher who closed out last season on a 9-1 roll with a 1.68 ERA in his final 11 starts.

“My first two starts were terrible,” Wheeler said, “so today was really nice to get out there and face their main guys and do well.”

Wheeler’s primary focus Saturday was to pound the strike zone with fastballs, get ahead in the count and stay there. Of his 43 pitches, 31 were strikes, and Mickey Callaway was pleased to see that Wheeler was a man on a mission. He’s not competing for a job, as he was a year ago, and coming off last season, Wheeler is secure enough to be in attack mode.

“That’s exactly right — he has confidence,” Callaway said. “You see it. Just the ability to relax and let the ball go with ease, and it’s 97-98 with great break on it. It’s fun to watch. I’m sure it’s fun for him to be able to go out there and know ‘I just got to get ready for the season.’  ”   

Nimmo fears no chicken

Brandon Nimmo hasn’t gained all his weight back from last week’s bout with a nasty virus that initially was misdiagnosed as illness from undercooked chicken. But he was sturdy enough Saturday to leg out an RBI triple in the Mets’ 10-2 victory over the Red Sox, and he hopes he’ll be 100 percent very soon.

“I’m finally getting my strength back,” said Nimmo, who drank a protein shake during the interview as part of his weight-gain regimen.

As for his culinary skills, Nimmo said he’s back cooking chicken again and — despite his debilitating sickness — is not skittish around poultry.   

Extra bases

Keon Broxton was forced to leave Saturday’s game in the sixth inning after he smacked into the centerfield wall while chasing a fly ball. Broxton injured his hip on the play and moved slowly coming off the field, but Callaway was optimistic. “He’s fine,” he said. “It sounds like he checked OK.” . . . Amed Rosario, who has been sidelined since getting hit on the hand by a pitch Monday, is expected to return to the lineup for Sunday’s game against the Cardinals.

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