By Everett Merrill
READING, Pa.—Mets righthander Zack Wheeler began his first season in Double-A in fine fashion, going 6-3, 1.88 with a strikeout per inning through 12 starts for Binghamton. He hit the proverbial wall soon after, allowing 12 runs and 17 hits in his next two outings, totaling 13 2/3 innings.
The 22-year-old Wheeler didn't dwell on the bad performances or let them fester. He had the maturity to put the drubbings in proper perspective.
"Sometimes you can get away with throwing hard and missing your spots," he said, reflecting on those two starts in late June. "But in those games I was missing my spots, and they were hitting me. That reminded me of what would happen if I was in the big leagues. It was a good learning experience, so actually I'm glad it happened."
Wheeler responded with one of his finest starts of the season on July 5, a six-hitter with six strikeouts and one run allowed over 7 1/3 innings in a win against Richmond.
Last weekend he pitched in his second Futures Games in three years, and though he didn't cross paths with Carlos Beltran in Kansas City, Wheeler admits that he occasionally keeps tabs on the player for whom he was traded.
In uniform for Wednesday's Eastern League all-star game (but inactive because of his Futures commitment), Wheeler was well aware that the Mets will need someone to replace Dillon Gee in the rotation following the righthander's second surgery to remove a blood clot in his shoulder. If New York dips into its Triple-A rotation, then that could mean a corresponding promotion for Wheeler.
"It's a terrible thing. I feel bad for Gee," said Wheeler. "But that's why you have the minor leagues—to get some help. I would be lying if I said (a promotion) wasn't in the back of my head."