Zack Wheeler deserved better than this. No one is doubting that. When you have a 2-1 lead, with two outs in the eighth inning, and an infield popup to the batter, the ball should have been able to go to interim closer Addison Reed in the ninth for the save.
But a Jose Reyes error changed all of that and the Mets eventually lost in 10, 6-2 to the Phillies.
Now, it’s easy to point the finger of blame to Reyes for dropping that popup. And it’s easy to shrug off the bullpen woes, since they were so taxed in Miami. But really, you need to start with Wheeler on the mound. Five innings of one run ball is nice and all, but the Mets righty really needs to learn how to economize when he is out on the bump.
Ninety-nine pitches over those frames is far too much for one of the “Aces” on the staff. He needs to go longer, especially with a taxed bullpen.
“If you go back over his short career up here, I think he averaged five and a third innings over his career,” said manager Terry Collins. “He is a guy who takes a lot of pitches. You certainly hope when you get into warmer days, he will start going deeper in games, because you can’t just use your bullpen up.”
That’s the dirty little secret the Mets marketing department didn’t want you to know over the past two years. Wheeler is not in the same class as the other Big 4 on the staff and the Mets are not holding a hand of Five Aces. It’s more like Four Aces and a Jack, because Wheeler has never approached the same levels of Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey or Matz, when healthy.
In all reality, though, that’s okay, because as a No. 5 starter, Wheeler gives you the work of a No. 3 or No. 4, while the others are such a step up compared to the rest of the league, you will take No. 45 every five days.
Remember, Wheeler is coming back from Tommy John and this is his third start since his return. He said his curveball is elusive and because he can’t spot his changeup, teams are fouling the pitch off more often than not.
Tonight, after a rough first inning, Wheeler made a change with his slider, which helped him with his economy, but it still was not enough.
“I need to be more efficient to get deeper into games, with the way our bullpen has been recently,” Wheeler said. “I have been saying that, but one day I will have my slider and not the curve and then I will have my curve and not the slider.”
He hasn’t been able to put it all together yet, but Wheeler hopes it’s coming. So instead of a polished ace like the others, the 26 year-old is that work in progress, who will have his ups and downs as the season progresses.
It’s just going to be the cost of doing business with the Mets right hander.
However, on most nights, Collins and company can absorb a five-inning gem and let the bullpen take over, but not tonight, because of their lost weekend down in Miami. And not with Jeurys Familia still on the shelf for two more days.
We saw that in this game, as the Zack Wheeler project continues. And you have to wonder: Will he eventually become the fifth ace? Or is he just another nice card in the deck?
Tonight, Wheeler was a solid Jack.