NEW YORK --Zack Wheeler is receiving an education about conservation.
Through the first six starts of his major league career, it's become common for Wheeler to battle hitters to 3-2 counts, ultimately running his pitch count near 100 in the middle innings. His starts tend to be short, like Saturday's outing against the Phillies, leaving Wheeler yearning to pitch deeper in games.
"Been a few times now where I've had to come out of the game early because I'm throwing 20 pitches an inning, falling behind guys, stuff like that. It's not going to work," Wheeler said after lasting just 4 2/3 innings Saturday. "That's part of my game I'm going to have to fix pretty fast."
Wheeler labored through his portion of the Mets' 5-4 win over the Phillies on Saturday. He was pulled with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning, and has lasted six innings or less in five of his six starts. He hasn't survived the fifth inning in two starts.
"He did a good job," catcher Anthony Recker said. "It's a little bit frustrating because I know if he could pound the zone a little more -- which he knows too and I'm sure he's a little frustrated about it, too -- he could have had a really good day dominating them with his fastball."
Wheeler tossed 106 pitches over 4 2/3 innings -- he couldn't get his fastball over the plate the way he wanted. On the season, Wheeler is averaging 101 pitches per outing, but averaging less than six innings.
"I just got to get more comfortable with my mechanics," Wheeler said. "Just figure out something and stick with that."
The good news is, Wheeler only surrendered two runs Saturday. But the Phillies managed to put runners on base in every inning. Jimmy Rollins led off the game with a solo home run, and Philadelphia left a pair or runners on in both the second and third innings.
In the fifth, with the Mets ahead 3-1, Wheeler loaded the bases with no outs, allowed another run on a sacrifice fly, and then induced Domonic Brown to fly out when Brown swung on a 3-0 pitch. Facing Darin Ruf with two outs, in what manager Terry Collins said was going to be Wheeler's last batter no matter what, Wheeler walked Ruf to load the bases. Wheeler left having yielded seven hits and two walks.
"That was definitely tough. I wanted to get through that inning not just for the win but to get out of that jam so we didn't have to use the bullpen earlier than we had to," Wheeler said. "My pitch count was high and I guess Terry thought it was the right time to take me out and it worked out for us. Germen came in and got a big out and it worked out well."
Collins said the Mets must reinforce that with Wheeler's ability to miss bats, throwing pitches over the plate will result in longer outings.
"We'll take it. Wish he could have got through the fifth inning, I did the best I could to let him get out of it," Collins said. "We've got 11 more, 12 more (starts). We'll certainly run him out there every five days and hopefully he gets better."