Mets Zack Wheeler Stumbles Out of the Gate But Shows Signs of Old Self in Loss to Nationals

Every year, there is a team that the Mets can’t seem to beat. This year, it appears to be several teams, but the Washington Nationals are the latest one that these bereft, undermanned Mets can’t solve.

It began early on Sunday night, in the top of the first, when starter Zack Wheeler loaded the bases to face old friend/new nemesis Daniel Murphy, who promptly greeted his old teammate with a line drive over the right centerfield fence to put the Mets in an early 4-0 hole.

Wheeler, who came into the game sporting a 5.52 ERA, buckled down after Murphy’s blast and held the Nationals to practically nothing for the next six innings. The Mets scratched back to narrow the score to 4-3 but reliever Josh Smoker got touched for a two-run homer in the eighth by the scorching hot Ryan Zimmerman.

On a night where the vibe at Citi Field was below the standard for most Met crowds, past or present, the Amazins, losers of four straight and eight of their last nine, actually showed some signs of life. That effort was evident in the way Wheeler rebounded from his erratic opening.

“He started out with a rough first inning, but he really settled down,” manager Terry Collins said after the game. “He just got really good in the middle innings, he used both sides of the plate, he pitched in effectively. That was a great start for him after the first inning.”

The line on Wheeler turned out to be an impressive one: seven innings pitched, four runs (all earned) on four hits, six strikeouts and two walks. He retired 19 of the last 22 batters he faced but his team could not overcome the mess he made in the first inning.

That aside, one has to be encouraged by the grit that Wheeler has been displaying. His numbers are deceiving in a way. He gets bogged down by some bad innings and then follows them with some flawless ones. The talent is there, but the consistency is still lagging behind.

After two lost seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the 26 year-old Georgia native appears to be on the road back to becoming the stud starter the Mets had hoped they were getting when they acquired him in a trade with the San Francisco Giants back in 2011 in exchange for outfielder Carlos Beltran.

The Mets are a hurting bunch right now but there are some positives to take away from their deflating sweep at the hands of the hated Nationals. OF Michael Conforto went 3-for-4 with a HR and 2B Neil Walker belted a two-run job of his own, but the Mets still only managed six hits on the night against Nats starter Max Scherzer and two relievers.

Collins has to be thinking about the few positives he saw tonight. Because the negatives are just too depressing at this early juncture of the season to let his optimism wane. He said that OF Yoenis Cepdedes (hamstring) was aiming to return Tuesday but SS Asdrubal Cabera turned his ankle. The injury train never ends.

At least he can hang his hat on Wheeler’s strong 101 pitch outing in which he threw 65 strikes. The Mets are predicted to be buoyed by their starting pitching and should Wheeler get over the hiccups we’ve seen here early in the season, Collins will not have such terse postgame responses this summer.

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