PHILADELPHIA – Somehow, Zack Wheeler deserved a little better. Still, he managed to walk away with what he deserved.
It should be a sign of his potential prosperous summer.
Through the better part of six innings against the Phillies Wednesday night, Wheeler showed little effects from a shaky debut against Miami five days ago, one that was managed to remain valid after a two-plus year layoff from Tommy John surgery.
Wheeler quietly weaved his way through the Philadelphia lineup with a two-seam fastball and slider over the first two innings and then admittedly “settled into a zone” in which he retired 10 straight Phillies with his team holding a commanding 5-0 lead.
Forty-nine pitches through four innings and a five –hitter under his belt. A final piece of a hallmark pitching staff appears to be fitting back into the right spot. He also allowed just one ball out of the infield through the same stanza.
But Wheeler’s 5.2 innings of an impressive comeback of solid baseball all came to a screeching halt when reliever Hansel Robles served up a first-pitch fastball to Maikel Franco, who proceeded to send a shot to one of the deepest parts of Citizens Bank Park, his second career grand slam that promptly tore the page from his storybook night .
It was a game again at 5-4, and Wheeler’s ERA ballooned from 4.99 to 7.45. But Robles settled down and Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas managed to patch the damage and gave the right-hander his first win since September 19, 2014 in an 85-pitch, four-hit, four-strikeout performance.
He welcomed nearly ideal, calm pitching conditions in Philadelphia rather the sketching weather in Miami,
“This felt good and I was happy to go out there and compete,” said Wheeler, who sported a blue jewel and silver crown standing before his locker. “This was a big weight off my shoulders and it has been nice to get back with the guys. It was nice to get back out there. During my last outing the ball was a little slick and it was nice to get out in better weather.
“I felt better than my first start and I didn’t have to deal with any weather issues. I had my command, but I kind of lost it at the end. I know the ball can fly out of here, but I have always thought of myself as a ground-ball pitcher.
Manager Terry Collins appreciated the first step.
“Absolutely,” beamed Collins when asked if he was pleased with Wheeler’s outing. “It was what we had talked about. It has been a long road back. When I went to the mound in the sixth, he said that he was running out of gas.
“He threw well and did a good job at holding us there. His arm strength and endurance will come around. He can’t do everything right now and he will come along. When the weather gets better, he will pitch better.”
From here, it is just a matter of getting back to normal and filling out the rotation.
“It is all about building up and this is a good place to start,” Wheeler added. “I was just trying to stay in a zone and concentrate. We feed off each other’s last outing. It makes it fun.”
With a healthy Wheeler, the summer can be a fulfilling one.