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Wheeler deals with command woes, thrives

WASHINGTON -- Zack Wheeler insisted he felt no extra satisfaction succeeding Tuesday while lacking command of his pitches.

“It’s not fun when you’re out there and nothing is really working for you,” Wheeler said. “You’re mad at yourself and you’re trying to find out what it is.”

Zack Wheeler

Zack Wheeler

#45 SP
New York Mets

2014 STATS

  • GM23
  • W7

  • L8

  • BB55

  • K130

  • ERA3.48

Wheeler and catcher Travis d'Arnaud conferred in the dugout after a 33-pitch second inning that included three walks and agreed to stay away from Wheeler’s curveball. Two innings later, pitching coach Dan Warthen studied video and suggested a mechanical adjustment, too.

Wheeler, despite allowing the first two batters to reach in four of his seven innings, ultimately limited the Washington Nationals to one run in 6 2/3 innings in a 6-1 win.

Wheeler now is 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his past seven starts.

“That’s what we’re talking about when we bring up the fact that he’s maturing, that he’s really starting to figure out what it takes here,” Terry Collins said. “His command wasn’t there at the beginning of the game, but he continued to battle and stayed with it and tried to make some big pitches and did. This kid has really, really gotten better. As he continues to improve, the sky’s the limit, I’ll tell you.”

Said Daniel Murphy: “To give us six solid innings like that of one-run ball, I think we all would have signed up for that after he had a little bit of struggles finding the strike zone.”

Wheeler’s fastball popped at 97-98 mph. And his slider was fine, too. As for one of his other normally dependable pitches, Wheeler said: “I didn’t have my curveball at all, and that’s usually a big pitch for me. I can usually get that over the plate and gets some swings and misses for strikeouts on it. The command was off on everything, so I just had to find a way through it.”

Wheeler downplayed maturity being a major factor in allowing him to work through the situation. Still, he did note that he has a better understanding of mechanics. And that allowed him to make an in-game adjustment after Warthen checked video and relayed his findings.

“He noticed that in the [1-2-3] first inning I was staying a little taller on my back leg,” Wheeler said. “In the second and third, I was collapsing it throwing to the plate and I wasn’t throwing downhill. During warmup pitches I tried to stay a little bit taller so I can finish down, through the pitches.”

Said d’Arnaud: “We just had to figure out what pitches he was locating and we just had to work with what he had. Today it was the fastball-slider. His changeup was decent, too.”

Despite Wheeler’s lack of command, Nats outfielder Jayson Werth heaped praise on him.

“That was the best I've seen him,” Werth said. “I don't know how many times I've seen him, but his velocity was a lot higher than I remember, and he had a lot of life on his fastball. He was really just throwing fastballs for the most part during the game. But we had our chances. I hit into a double play. I think somebody else hit into a double play. We had opportunities. I get thrown out at home plate. We had our chances. We just, for whatever reason, didn't come through."

Said Wheeler: “Obviously today I didn’t have my best stuff and it wasn’t very fun, but you’ve got to find a way to do it.”