51s' Wheeler confidently rolls along on fast track to majors


Mets rookie right-hander Matt Harvey arguably has been baseball’s most dominant pitcher this season, and 51s right-hander Zack Wheeler expects to achieve similar success when he joins Harvey in New York.

“Yeah, what else would you do once you go up there?” the confident 22-year-old from Georgia said. “You try to dominate.”

After struggling through his first five Las Vegas starts — going 0-1 with a 5.79 ERA while failing to complete six innings in an outing — Wheeler was dominant in his next two starts at Reno and Sacramento, going 2-0 and allowing one run on eight hits in 12 2/3 innings, with 12 strikeouts and two walks.

“He’s not that far away (from the majors), in my opinion,” 51s manager Wally Backman said. “A couple more starts like he had (at Reno and Sacramento) and (the Mets) are going to have to start thinking up there about what they’re going to do with him.

“I know eventually if he pitches like that he’s going to be in the big leagues, he’s going to be there for a long time, and he’s not going to come back.”

A power pitcher who throws in the middle to high 90s and was clocked at 97 mph several times Saturday night at Cashman Field, the 6-foot-4-inch Wheeler allowed two runs on six hits in 7 1/3 innings, with seven strikeouts and one walk, in Las Vegas’ 4-3 win over the Albuquerque Isotopes.

He’s 2-1 with a 3.74 ERA this season, with 47 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings, and Backman said it’s not unreasonable to expect Wheeler to approach Harvey’s success when he reaches the majors.

“He’s very capable of doing similar to what Matt’s doing, there’s no question about it,” Backman said. “They both have great arms, and they’ve got good secondary pitches. When they throw strikes, they’re not unhittable, but they’re real tough on hitters.”

After missing most of spring training with an oblique injury suffered taking a swing in the batting cage, Wheeler was hampered by a blister under the nail of his right middle finger in his first four starts for the 51s.

“It affected me a good bit,” he said. “I couldn’t throw a slider, and my command was off because I couldn’t finish my pitches because my finger was so sensitive. But it’s settled down, and I’ve been able to do good since.”

While Wheeler said his confidence never wavered, Backman — who coached him at Triple-A Buffalo — said he was frustrated early on by the blister.

“He was trying to pitch through that. He couldn’t throw his breaking ball — he still tried — but it affected him,” Backman said. “I had Zack for part of last year, and he expects a lot of himself. He’s a real competitor, and he wants to be the best he can be out there.

“You could see some frustration, but he got through that, and he’s healthy. He’s back on the track we think he should be on.”

Along with his blister healing, Wheeler said adjusting his mechanics has been key to his recent success.

“I think it’s just keeping my front shoulder in,” he said. “Before it was flying open a good bit, and I was inconsistent.”

The sixth overall pick of the 2009 draft by the San Francisco Giants, Wheeler was traded to the Mets in July 2011 for outfielder Carlos Beltran.

“It’s part of baseball. You’re going to get traded every once in a while,” Wheeler said. “He’s a good player. It was a privilege to get traded for him.”

The fourth-year pro went a combined 12-8 with a 3.26 ERA last season for Double-A Binghamton and Buffalo, with 148 strikeouts in 149 innings.

Wheeler downplayed the adverse effect the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League can have on pitchers.

“It’s dry out here, and you’ve just got to make your pitch and keep the ball down,” he said. “(Cashman Field) is just another field. You’ve just got to go out there and play.”

Rated the No. 8 prospect in the game by mlb.com, Wheeler is biding his time until he receives the much-anticipated call from the Mets.

“I try to go out there every time and dominate and do what I do,” he said. “Be confident out there, and when the time comes, it will come.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

LAS VEGAS 4
ALBUQUERQUE 3

■ WINNING/LOSING PITCHER: 51s, Justin Hampson (2-0); Isotopes, Peter Moylan (2-1)

■ HIGHLIGHTS: At Cashman Field, Reese Havens drew a walk-off walk with one out in the ninth inning for the 51s (17-17), who had four hits before a crowd of 8,393. Zach Lutz singled to start the ninth, and Eric Campbell and Omar Quintanilla walked to load the bases for Havens. ... Albuquerque (18-18) rallied for a run in the ninth to tie it as Justin Hampson blew his fourth save in as many chances for Las Vegas, which has eight blown saves in 11 chances. Rusty Ryal drilled a leadoff double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Brian Barden. ... Eric Campbell belted a tiebreaking solo homer in the seventh inning, and Wilmer Flores hit a two-run shot in the fourth for the 51s. ... Zack Wheeler (2-1, 3.74 ERA) allowed two runs on six hits in 7 1/3 innings, the longest outing by a Las Vegas pitcher this season. He was denied his first home win. ... The Isotopes took a 1-0 lead in the first, when Elian Herrera singled and scored on an RBI single by Ryal. They tied it in the seventh when Matt Angle launched a leadoff homer. ... Ex-51s pitcher Aaron Laffey allowed two runs on two hits in six innings, with five strikeouts and three walks, for Albuquerque.

■ NEXT: Isotopes (RHP Sean White, 1-4, 4.80 ERA) at 51s (RHP Collin McHugh, 2-2, 2.98), 12:05 p.m. today, KBAD-AM (920)

 

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