September 10, 2013

The Growth of Zack Wheeler

In the first inning of Friday night's game against the Indians, Zack Wheeler began the game by giving up consecutive singles to Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher and followed those up with a walk to Jason Kipnis.  He then proceeded to give up a sacrifice fly to Carlos Santana, scoring one run, and inducing a strike-out from Jason Kubel and a foul pop-out from Asdrubal Cabrera. He had gotten out of a bases loaded-no outs jam and only gave up one run.

Immediately after the inning ended I tweeted:
As the tweet indicates, I was struck by how Wheeler ran into the worst possible situation, took a deep breath and let his stuff get him out of the inning.  A pitcher with Wheeler's pure talent can do that.

It appears I wasn't alone.  Other Mets took notice.  As Andy Martino reported for the New York Daily News at least one veteran was impressed by the often aloof rookie, "That was the best inning he pitched all year," said one veteran [Mets player].

Photo Courtesy Of @Lets86It
That performance was just another step in the maturation of Zack Wheeler as he grows into a major league pitcher.  Since he first arrived in June he has reduced his walks (11 walks over last six starts vs. 28 walks over previous 9 starts), reduced his pitch count (16.9 pitches per inning in last six starts vs. 17.5 pitches per inning in previous nine starts)  and has began the very long trip of learning that, even at the major league level, he can trust his stuff to get hitters out.  He has a long way to go.  16.9 pitches per inning is still much too high (for reference purposes, your league leader in pitches per inning is Bronson Arroyo at 14.1 and Matt Harvey averaged 15.1 pitches per inning this year).  He has to learn to trust his stuff at all times and to keep himself out of trouble.

The good news is, much of what Zack Wheeler is going through this year - the high walk rate, high pitch counts leading to short outings, the lack of trust in his own repertoire and developing the cockiness to never give in - are much the same things that Matt Harvey went through last year.  It is the natural progression of a young ace in training.  It would be wonderful if Wheeler could have a sophomore year (somewhat) like Harvey's, but I do not expect it.  He will get there eventually and that first inning versus the Indians in a game that meant nothing was a big step for the young flamethrower.

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