PITTSBURGH — Zack Wheeler’s demo tape is complete, with some of his best work featured in the latest entry.
Now it’s a matter of a suitor emerging with what the Mets deem a satisfactory offer for the 28-year-old right-hander, who is clearly capable of helping a playoff contender. But Wheeler’s greatest value still might be to a Mets team that has designs on competing in 2019.
Decisions, decisions. One will be reached by Tuesday’s 4 p.m., non-waiver trade deadline, but let the record show Wheeler has never looked better than recently for the Mets.
On Sunday, he continued his surge over the last two months with six shutout innings that carried the Mets to a 1-0 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park.
If Wheeler’s right arm wasn’t enough, his lefty bat delivered a fifth-inning RBI double that drove in the only run.
“I want to be here,” said Wheeler, who arrived at the trade deadline in 2011 in a deal with the Giants for Carlos Beltran. “I think we have a good core group of guys and the starting staff is pretty good, so I want to be a part of that and would like to stay here and continue.”
The fact between eight and 10 teams were interested in Wheeler last week suggested he would almost certainly be traded by Tuesday. But according to industry sources, the Mets now believe they are more likely to keep him, as the potential trade returns do not match his perceived upside by the organization.
Among playoff contenders, the Brewers, Rockies and Mariners are teams that would seem like a cozy fit for Wheeler. But because he is under club control through next season, teams such as the Rangers, Reds and Padres, all of whom are removed from playoff contention, could become a destination.
The Mets have no urgency to trade Wheeler, but also need position players for next season, and Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz have become close to untouchable based on the return required.
Wheeler has pitched to a 3.20 ERA in his last 11 starts since June 1 and lasted at least six innings in all but two of them.
“He is just as steady as can be these days,” manager Mickey Callaway said.
“What I see the most is his ability to stand up on the mound and look confident and go about his business in a confident way. The way he is attacking hitters now, he knows his stuff is good and he knows he’s going to beat them. That makes for the most effective pitcher.”
On Sunday he allowed five hits and struck out seven with one walk before departing at 89 pitches for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning.
Wheeler continued an offensive surge by Mets pitchers with an RBI double in the fifth that produced the game’s only run. A night earlier deGrom had two hits for the Mets in their 5-0 loss to the Pirates.
The Mets went hitless through four innings against Joe Musgrove until Austin Jackson, in his first start for the Mets, reached on an infield single to begin the fifth.
Seth Lugo pitched two shutout innings behind Wheeler before Anthony Swarzak fired a scoreless ninth.
Wheeler, who missed the second half of last season with weakness in his arm, was sent to Triple-A Las Vegas to begin 2018 because the Mets weren’t satisfied with his performance in spring training.
But after only one start in the minors Wheeler returned, and he has gradually morphed into a dependable middle-of-the-rotation starter since.
“I think it’s just me being healthy,” Wheeler said. “I can really concentrate and do what I want to do between starts in the bullpen.”
Wheeler’s success, from Callaway’s perspective, might just be a case of feeling good enough physically to challenge hitters with his 97 mph heat. Entering play, Wheeler’s fastball was averaging 96.9 mph in July. It had averaged just 94.3 mph in April.
“I have seen it in the past,” Callaway said. “Guys go from a guy that is trying to just execute a pitch to the corner or maybe pitch away from contact to they all of a sudden go challenge guys and their velocity just jumps way up.”
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