NEW YORK -- After consecutive rainouts, and with top prospect Zack Wheeler fizzling in the fifth inning on Friday with Triple-A Las Vegas, the New York Mets have amended their plans for the top prospect’s major league debut, according to an organization source.
The Mets are now targeting a five-game series over four days in Atlanta for Wheeler’s first start -- they will need an extra starter on June 18 because of a doubleheader. Wheeler grew up a Braves fans 30 miles west of Turner Field in Dallas, Ga.
The club had been eyeing next Friday’s game at Citi Field against the Chicago Cubs -- going so far as to make arrangements for Wheeler’s family, according to a team insider. Wheeler had been apprised of the plan, the source added.
Waiting until the Braves series should further ensure Wheeler does not qualify for arbitration eligibility a year early.
Wheeler was charged with four runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out seven in 4⅔ innings Friday for the 51s at Tacoma. He is now expected to make another Pacific Coast League start, on Wednesday back in Las Vegas, also against Tacoma.
In late April, there had been some concern with Wheeler when he walked nine batters over a stretch of two games, which Terry Collins was not pleased with. In his following seven starts, including Friday's, Wheeler walked just 10 batters, and issued just one free pass in five of those outings. Wheeler is 4-1 with a 4.14 ERA on the season and has walked 25 batters overall spanning 63 innings.
"[Las Vegas 51s manager] Wally [Backman] said it's up and down, which is what you're going to expect out of a young power arm. It might be a time when he loses command of a release point, which is certainly natural. We see it here," Collins said. "Hopefully, when he gets here, no disrespect to anybody down there, but you hope that defensively we might be better; we'll help him a bit, and I know Dan [Warthen] -- when [Wheeler] gets here -- we'll make sure he's ready to trust his stuff in the strike zone. We're going to catch the baseball."
Last season, the Mets' current ace, Matt Harvey, started the season in Triple-A, and there were reports that he was bored in the minors, which contributed to his 7-5 record and 3.68 ERA in 20 starts. Collins said Harvey has showed better stuff in the majors than his scouting report indicated.
Collins believes Wheeler is giving it his all in Triple-A and recalled telling the youngster during spring training to make sure that he earned that call to the big leagues.
"One of the things I told him is pitch your way out of there," Collins said. "Don't just wait for the phone to ring. Make the phone ring."