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Mets' Zack Wheeler shaky but impressive in major-league debut

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

Zack Wheeler of the Mets made his major-league debut on Tuesday. (USATSI)
Zack Wheeler of the Mets made his major-league debut on Tuesday. (USATSI)

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Tuesday was a good day for the Mets. First and foremost, they swept a road doubleheader from the division-leading Braves, and a strong second on the list of good things is Zack Wheeler's major-league debut.

Wheeler, the hyped 23-year-old right-hander whom the Mets acquired from the Giants as part of the Carlos Beltran trade in 2011, entered the season as a consensus top-10 prospect. Needless to say, expectations were high heading into Tuesday night in Atlanta. By and large, Wheeler delivered.

Across six scoreless innings, Wheeler struck out seven, walked five -- all unintentional -- and gave up four hits. Of his 102 pitches, 55 went for strikes. At the outset, Wheeler is to be praised for blanking an offense that ranks third in the NL this season in OPS against right-handed pitchers. With that said, Wheeler's command was a bit spotty, as made clear by his strike percentage of 53.9.

Courtesy of the indispensible BrooksBaseball.net, here's how Wheeler's pitch selection breaks down ...

Briefly, "SNIPs" stands for "strikes not in play," and "Linear Weights" is an estimated value of each type of pitch for the game in question (for those interested, there's a more thorough explanation of pitch linear weights over at FanGraphs).

As you can see, Wheeler, in keeping with the scouting reports, showed excellent velocity and leaned heavily on his four-seamer. That four-seamer, in addition to touching the high 90s, also showed some good arm-side run, which is likely one reason that Wheeler threw that pitch more than 70 percent of the time on Tuesday night.

On the other hand, Wheeler didn't show a great deal of movement on his slider and also had trouble throwing his breaking stuff for strikes. You can't draw many conclusions from one start, but if Wheeler is indeed going to throw his fastball more than 70 percent of the time (Shelby Miller and Juan Nicasio are the only two qualifiers to do this in 2013), then you'll need more command of your secondary stuff for those occasions when you do call upon it. Again, though, we're talking one start.

We're also talking about one start against a Braves offense that ranks second in the NL in walks as a percentage of plate appearances and fifth in lowest percentage of swings at pitches outside the strike zone. That's to say, Atlanta hitters generally lay off stuff that isn't over the plate, as Wheeler learned. He may find that other lineups are more easily tempted.

All things considered -- the moment, the quality opponent, the fact that Wheeler was pitching about 35 miles from where he went to high school -- his night was an obvious success. Especially impressive was how Wheeler was able to miss bats and induce weak contact with runners on base. There's nothing to suggest that "bearing down" with runners on is any kind of repeatable skill for a pitcher, but in the heat of the inning it's impressive to see, particularly from a 23-year-old pitching at the highest level for the first time.

By way of example, here's how Wheeler rescued himself in his final inning of work ...

Nicely done, Mr. Wheeler.

While the Mets will surely want to see better control from him going forward, Wheeler on Tuesday missed some bats, pitched to the situation and kept runs off the board. Rarely do major-league debuts go better than that.

 
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