CINCINNATI — For Zack Wheeler, the waning days of the season also might be the waning days of his Mets career. After eight years, a hype-filled debut, a major injury, a pair of missed runs to the postseason, multiple close calls at trade deadlines and — finally — his emergence as a durable major league starter, Wheeler can be a free agent this offseason.
He is scheduled for one more regular-season start Thursday against the Marlins at Citi Field.
“It goes through your head every once in a while, but my mindset and focus is right here on this team,” he said. “This is the team I’m on right now. I love it here. I want to win, so that’s the biggest goal right now, win some ballgames here.”
If this indeed is the end of Wheeler’s tenure with the Mets, he is finishing strong. In Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Reds, he allowed two runs, one earned, in seven innings. Both Cincinnati runs scored in the first inning, aided by a pair of Todd Frazier misplays.
He has a 2.57 ERA since the start of August (and a 3.99 ERA this season) with one start remaining.
“Wheeler was outstanding. He probably shouldn’t have given up a run,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “If we don’t make those couple of miscues, he might go eight shutout [innings]. He was fantastic. He stepped up when we needed him the most.”
Wheeler threw 109 pitches, his most since the All-Star break. The Reds put runners at the corners with none out in the fifth, but he escaped that jam and retired nine of his final 10 batters.
“Any time of the season, but this time in particular with everything on the line, basically you gotta bear down, make your pitches and give it all you got,” Wheeler said. “That’s what I tried to do today.”
Michael Conforto went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk Saturday. In September, he has a .152/.263/.273 slash line with 23 strikeouts in 66 at-bats.
“Just going through a little bit of a down cycle,” Callaway said. “Hitters go through these. He’s a great hitter when he’s going good, and we need him to start clicking tomorrow.”
Conforto has a .250/.354/.474 slash line, 30 homers and 84 RBIs.
Pitching coach Phil Regan’s season won’t end when the Mets’ does. Regan, 82, is planning to head to the Dominican Winter League in October and will be the pitching coach for Los Toros del Este. He’ll bring a gaggle of Mets pitchers: Tyler Bashlor, Daniel Zamora, Chris Mazza and Tim Peterson . . . Dominic Smith (left foot stress fracture) did not get to face live pitching in Port St. Lucie, Florida, this week as the Mets had hoped, another blow to his hopes of returning this season. He will rejoin the team in New York in the upcoming week.
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