NEW YORK – Zack Wheeler thought it would all change Tuesday.
An underwhelming season would finally get on track, propelling him to a second half like the one he had last year. The results would finally match how he felt. It would all sync.
In the first inning, it seemed that way. Wheeler easily took care of the Yankees.
Then, just like his season, it didn't go to plan.
When he exited the first game of this Subway Series doubleheader in the fifth inning, the Yankees had already scored nine runs, the most he’s ever allowed
He suffered the loss in the Mets’ 12-5 loss to the Yankees, yielding 10 hits and two homers in 4.2 innings. Wheeler (4-5, 3.58 ERA) wasted a 4-1 lead, surrendering a three-run homer in the fourth to Luke Voit that put the Yankees ahead for good.
“Bullpen, I felt great, first inning I felt great, and past three or four starts I felt great all around. I had a feeling I was going to start doing what I did second half last year but it hasn’t been there so far and waiting for it to come,” Wheeler said. “Ironing out the stretch, get that figured out, will definitely help me limit runs and base runners and all that.”
There were such high expectations for Wheeler entering this year off his torrid finish to the 2018 season. Excitement brewed throughout spring training about the possibility of Wheeler mirroring that type of elite production for a whole year
Wheeler posted a 1.68 ERA in his final 11 starts last season, looking every part of a dominant, front-of-the-rotation ace.
That hot finish has not carried over to the 2019 campaign, although the Mets can hope that perhaps Wheeler has a second-half surge in store like last year.
Wheeler owns a 4.87 ERA through 14 starts, slightly above the 4.57 mark he had at this point last season. He’s dominated at times, but also had far too many rough days.
He’s particularly been victimized by the long ball, allowing 13 homers already after surrendering 14 last year.
“I actually feel I’m doing better, but I don’t think I am numbers wise. I feel better, and feel better on the mound, but the results aren’t there like they were last year even though they’re both not very good,” said Wheeler, who is in the last year of his contract. “Physically and mechanically I’m feeling really good, just last three or four starts the results aren’t there. Hopefully I can get that turned around and going in the right direction.”
In Tuesday’s loss, Wheeler didn’t pitch as poorly as the line indicated with four of the runs being unearned, which has been a theme with the righty.
He often pitches better than it seems, owning a 3.56 FIP (fielding independent percentage) entering the day, a statistic that eliminates defense. It is meant to be a truer indicator of how a pitcher is performing than ERA, and can be used as a predictive stat.
Poor defense led to a run in the second that cut the Mets’ lead to 4-2 in the second, and Wheeler had no regrets about a 96-mph seamer on the inside corner that Gio Urshela hit out to left to tie the game in the third. He only lamented the result.
An error later in the inning allowed Luke Voit to bat with two on and two outs, and Wheeler made his biggest mistake, hanging a slider.
Voit crushed the mistake, sending it deep into the left-field stands.
Wheeler noted he has to be better out of the stretch.
“Physically felt fine. I don’t know. It was a tough one to swallow. I made some pitches when I had to, they also hit some good pitches, left some balls over the plate. A little mix of everything,” Wheeler said. “Left a slider over to Voit and he made me pay for it.”
The inability of Wheeler’s results to match his stuff is a result of a lack of execution, according to Mets manager Mickey Callaway.
Callaway noted how poor defense and some bloop hits burned Wheeler, who had a 99-mph fastball and 94-mph slider. That’s more than good enough to get outs.
When a pitcher misses his spots, like Wheeler did several times Tuesday, hitters can still make them pay.
Both Wheeler and the Mets can only hope it comes together soon rather than later since the team may be forced to trade him if it is not contending.
“He always has good stuff. He always had good stuff. He’s always will have good stuff,” Callaway said. “Overall, he’s just got to keep on battling, he’s got to understand what he can do better each time out and try to put himself into a better position to have success the next time. These guys work relentlessly and he’ll get going.”
Added Wheeler: “Results haven’t been there but I feel great but wish the results would come with that.”