Tuesday was an important night for Zack Wheeler, who I hope understands how and why he was so effective after a difficult first inning.
Instead of just pounding the bottom of the strike zone, Wheeler was wild, but effective.
It all changed for Wheeler in the second inning, down three runs with two outs and runners on second and third base. If Marlins 1B Justin Bour gets the fifth hit of the inning, the game is blown wide open, Wheeler is demoralized and out of the game sooner than later, the Mets easily lose and the bullpen gets taxed again.
However, after a quick mound visit from Tomas Nido and Dave Eiland, and with a 2-2 count, Wheeler set up Bour with an unhittable 97-mph fastball inside. Then, with what was his most important pitch of the night, Wheeler dropped a perfectly-placed 91-mph splitter down and inside for a swing-and-miss strikeout to end the inning.
Thankfully, though the Mets did end up losing, Wheeler adopted this strategy the remainder of his time on the mound and kept his team in the game.
"I found my slider,'' Wheeler explained after the game. "I was able to throw it for what looked like was gonna be a strike."
From the final out of the second inning on, Wheeler consistently changed eye levels, had late movement on his fastball, intelligently wasted pitches when needed, deceivingly mixed up his splitter and slider, and had the Marlins guessing and missing and looking hesitant and confused. As a result, Wheeler ended the game having allowed just one earned run in six innings.
Wheeler pitched very well through June 7 last season, then fell apart. Since that time, spanning 14 starts, he has pitched at least five innings and let up three or fewer runs eight times. The other six starts were total disasters.
This script is very reminiscent of the recent experience watching John Maine, Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez, all whom similarly struggled to find any sort of consistent results. For every one or two promising appearances, each would revert to two or three average starts with a nightmare tucked in for good measure.
"It sort of just clicked for me,'' Wheeler said Tuesday night about the game beyond the second inning.
"I've been looking for it all season," he added, specifically speaking about his slider. "It's something that breaks late toward that side of the plate. I need it. Hopefully it carries over to the next start."
Me too. If it does, if he truly is in command of that one pitch and continues to offset it with his splitter as he did Tuesday night, he could be on his way to living up to his potential. However, as was the case on many similar nights for Pelfrey, Perez and Maine, can Wheeler keep it going... not just during his next start, but the one after that and the one after that and the one after than and so on and so on...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!