Phillies' Zack Wheeler pitches Thursday during the first inning of...

Phillies' Zack Wheeler pitches Thursday during the first inning of doubleheader against Yankees.   Credit: AP/Matt Slocum

Zack Wheeler isn’t going to validate his $118 million contract after only two starts. The Phillies signed him to a five-year deal. There’s plenty of time left for that debate.

But during this freakish 2020 season, where players are lost daily and rules are changed on almost a weekly basis, Wheeler has been one of the few sure things -- a model of consistency among the madness.

Take Wednesday, for example. The doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park featured a pair of seven-inning games, trimmed by MLB for less wear-and-tear on pitching staffs, and the Yankees were the home team for the opener, based on it being a makeup for Tuesday’s rainout in the Bronx.

Wheeler remained unfazed, of course. After spending five seasons with the Flushing circus, pitching under the Mets’ big top, he doesn’t get rattled easily -- even facing these bullying Yankees, who had flexed their way to an 8-1 start.

That cool demeanor was on display again Wednesday as Wheeler shook off an early 3-0 deficit, including a two-run homer by Brett Gardner, to deliver a strong six-inning performance in the Phillies’ 11-7 victory over the Yankees.

Inside the unfamiliar red-pinstripes was the same Wheeler, throwing easy 97-mph heat with the nasty slider and changeup. He’s now 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA, and after Wheeler supplied seven innings in his July 25 debut, manager Joe Girardi joked before Wednesday’s doubleheader that he’d gladly take that again -- knowing it would be a complete game this time around.

Wheeler certainly put himself in position. He needed 20 pitches for the first inning, then became more efficient, going 14, 12, 14, 10 and finally 17 to top out at 87 -- his same pitch count from his start 11 days earlier.

Even with an 11-3 cushion, Girardi decided not to push Wheeler any further -- hardly a surprise, considering how well we know the former Yankees manager. Afterward, Wheeler said he could have kept going, but also had no issue with Girardi dialing up the bullpen.

“No discussion,” Wheeler said. “Pretty much when I came into the dugout Joe said I was done and congratulated me and all that. I felt fine personally but that's not my call. That’s Joe’s call.”

Seven innings or not, Wheeler narrowly missed the chance to throw what would have been only the second complete game in 127 career starts. In 2014, he beat the Marlins, 1-0.

“I've done it a couple of times in the minor leagues,” Wheeler said of going the distance in a seven-inning game. “Those are the ones that you always try to go out there and get an easy complete game. I think they’re good just for this year. You know, keeping guys’ safety first and foremost.”

Wheeler was his low-key self throughout Wednesday, barely showing a ripple of emotion, either during the start or his postgame media session. That’s why it was so surprising back in spring training -- the one in Florida, before the shutdown -- when Wheeler ignited a brief war of words with Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen.

Wheeler had expressed a willingness to stay in Flushing, but the Mets never showed any hint of meeting his price long before the Phillies stepped up with that $118 million contract. That became crystal clear when Van Wagenen dealt for Marcus Stroman at last year’s deadline -- basically Wheeler’s cheaper replacement -- and didn’t engage in any serious conversations afterward.

Back in February, Wheeler described hearing nothing but “crickets” from the Mets’ side during free agency, saying their inaction was “how they roll.” Across the state, that brought a pointed response from Van Wagenen, who stabbed back with, “We helped him parlay two good half-seasons over the course of the last five years into $118 million.”

The next day, Wheeler declined any further escalation with Van Wagenen. And he seems content to let his performance speak for him going forward. As for the Mets, they appear dead to him now. When asked Wednesday if he had been paying any attention to his former club -- the same one he broke into the majors with after coming to Queens in the Carlos Beltran swap -- Wheeler gave a one-word answer.

“No,” he said.

Wheeler has moved on. He’s a new father now, after the birth of his son, Wesley, last month, so that’s another big change in his life. Otherwise, he looks like the same electric arm that you remember with the Mets -- only much, much richer.


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