Scott Kazmir once was in Zack Wheeler's position - considered one of the top pitching prospects for the New York Mets and a big piece of the franchise's future.
Traded in a lopsided deal that prevented him from ever donning a Mets uniform, Kazmir gets his first chance to face the team that drafted him when the playoff-hopeful Cleveland Indians host Wheeler and New York on Friday night.
Struggling to get into postseason contention as the 2004 trade deadline approached, New York shipped Kazmir - the 15th overall pick two years earlier and one of baseball's top prospects - to Tampa Bay as part of the deal that landed right-hander Victor Zambrano.
The Mets ended up finishing 20 games below .500 that season, and Zambrano would be gone in 2006.
Kazmir (7-7, 4.36 ERA), meanwhile, has had a solid major league career that includes seven appearances in postseason games. He's never faced the Mets, but he'll do so Friday while looking to help Cleveland (74-65) bolster its playoff chances.
The left-hander, though, is 0-3 with a 7.11 ERA over his last four starts after allowing four runs in five innings of a 10-5 loss to Detroit on Saturday. He went 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his previous nine.
"I just wasn't hitting my spots," Kazmir said after seeing his record fall to .500. "The ball would be left up or out over the middle of the plate."
The Indians hope Kazmir can bounce back as they seek a fourth victory in five games following Wednesday's 6-4 win over Baltimore. Yan Gomes and Ryan Raburn each drove in two runs for Cleveland, which trails Detroit by 6 1/2 games for the AL Central lead and is chasing Tampa Bay for the second wild-card spot.
The team brought a chicken onto the field for batting practice, a stunt manager Terry Francona said is a sign of his club being loose despite the pressure of the playoff race.
"I think it's great," Francona said. "Guys are trying to have fun. That's the best way to be a good team."
The Mets (63-75) won't have to worry about playing beyond the regular season for a seventh straight year, though Wheeler has given them hope for a bright future.
Wheeler (7-3, 3.36) and injured phenom Matt Harvey are expected to be a formidable duo at the top of New York's rotation for years to come. Wheeler is 3-1 with a 2.51 ERA over his last five starts after beating Washington on Saturday, giving up two runs in 6 2-3 innings of an 11-3 win.
The 23-year-old rookie had only three strikeouts but threw 69 of his 99 pitches for strikes.
"He's not trying to strike people out," manager Terry Collins said. "With the great arm that he had, people were looking for that ... when he got up here. I think while he was here, he said, 'Hey, look, I don't have to. I can get outs if I pitch to contact, and stay in games longer.'"
The Mets ended a three-game skid with a 5-2 win over Atlanta on Wednesday, though they announced it is likely first baseman Ike Davis would miss the rest of the season due to a strained right oblique.
Lucas Duda had a homer among three hits in that contest and is 7 for 14 over his last four.
Cleveland will be without everyday left fielder Michael Brantley after he returned to his home in West Palm Beach, Fla., to be with wife Melissa for the birth of their first child.
Brantley is batting .278 with eight home runs, 59 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 132 games.