PITTSBURGH — Zack Wheeler pitched well again Sunday afternoon, and when his teammates failed to get him any runs, he went ahead and did that, too.
The Mets parlayed Wheeler’s six scoreless innings and his RBI double into a 1-0 win over the Pirates.
Against the backdrop of the impending non-waiver trade deadline — 4 p.m. Tuesday — Wheeler sparkled, leaving a positive final impression for any team that wants to try to trade for him. He struck out seven and scattered five hits (all singles) and one walk.
Wheeler’s ERA dropped to 4.11, its lowest point since April. He has a 3.20 ERA in 70 1⁄3 innings in his last 11 starts.
“He’s as steady as can be these days,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “It’s fun to get to run him out there every five days.”
Callaway believes Wheeler’s improvement stems from his between-starts work, which the manager said is of a higher quality and more focused, and manifests itself in his on-field swagger.
“That’s really what I see the most, his ability to stand up on the mound and look confident — and not only look confident but go about his business in a confident way,” Callaway said. “The way he’s attacking hitters now, he knows his stuff is good, he knows he’s going to beat them. And that makes for the most effective pitcher.”
Wheeler said his routine between outings isn’t much different, but being healthy allows him to work harder and smarter.
He also borrowed a piece of Jacob deGrom’s bullpen sessions, focusing on throwing glove-side fastballs.
“The same mentality is there, but I haven’t always been healthy, so I really haven’t been able to throw a certain percentage in the bullpen,” said Wheeler, who reiterated his desire to remain a Met despite persistent trade rumors. “But now that I’m healthy, I’m really concentrating.”
Aside from scoreless outings from Seth Lugo (two innings) and Anthony Swarzak (one inning, save), the rest of the Mets contributed little Sunday. They went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base, and they haven’t had a position player drive in a run since Friday. The Mets’ only two extra-base hits the past two games were by pitchers: Wheeler on Sunday and deGrom on Saturday.
Wheeler’s came in the fifth inning. After Luis Guillorme reached on a two-out infield single, Wheeler sent a 1-and-1 fastball down in the zone into the rightfield corner, driving in Guillorme from first.
Wheeler became the first Mets pitcher to win a 1-0 game and drive in the only run since Nino Espinosa did so on Sept. 14, 1977, against Philadelphia.
Centerfielder Austin Jackson went 2-for-3 with a walk in his first start as a Met.
Pittsburgh righty Joe Musgrove, who held the Mets hitless into the fifth, lasted seven innings.
Notes & quotes: Michael Conforto was out of the lineup with a swollen and bruised left thumb, which he initially jammed badly before the All-Star break and jammed twice Saturday night. Callaway said Conforto, who was intentionally walked in a pinch-hit appearance Sunday, should be fine after the team’s off day Monday . . . Swarzak’s past three games: 3 1⁄3 innings, no runs, one hit, no walks, six strikeouts, two saves. “It’s good to see him get some reps in that position in case we need him to do that next year,” Callaway said . . . Todd Frazier (strained rib-cage muscle) played only four innings with high Class A St. Lucie on Sunday as a rain delay shortened his day from a scheduled seven innings. He is 1-for-4 with a double and a walk in two rehab games.
Zack Wheeler is the sixth Met to win a 1-0 game in which the starting pitcher drove in the only run. Interestingly, the first two times it happened occurred on the same day in 1969, a doubleheader in Pittsburgh.
Jerry Koosman, Sept. 12, 1969 vs. PIT(Game 1)
Don Cardwell, Sept. 12, 1969 vs. PIT (Game 2)
Buzz Capra, May 13, 1972 vs. SF
Ray Sadecki, Aug. 25, 1974 vs. ATL
Nino Espinosa, Sept. 14, 1977 vs. PHI
Zack Wheeler, July 29, 2018 vs. PIT