Zack Wheeler, New York Mets
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It was a strong opening start for New York Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler out at Triple-A Las Vegas as he excelled on the mound and at the plate.

While the New York Mets had Friday off, their Triple-A affiliate, the Las Vegas 51’s, had a right-hander on the mound that fans hope will make an impact on the big league club this year—Zack Wheeler.

While he didn’t make the team out of spring training, he got a step closer to getting back to Citi Field on Friday night.

In his outing against the El Paso Chihuahuas (San Diego Padres), Wheeler went five innings, gave up one run on three hits, struck out six, and walked one on 80 pitches (56 strikes) in the victory. At the plate, he was 2-for-2 and had an RBI single in the bottom of the fourth.

After allowing a leadoff single to Franchy Cordero, Wheeler settled in and retired the next 10 hitters he faced before a Luis Urias single in the fourth. His fastball topped out at 96 mph during the game and he had good movement on his offspeed pitches.

If there was one thing to critique about Wheeler from this game, it’s that he had a lot of deep counts in the middle innings, which limited how far he could go in this game. Of the eight batters he faced in the fourth and fifth innings, four of them had a three-ball count. This included the Raffy Lopez home run to right that led off the fifth.

With all that being said, this was a good first start for Wheeler as he improved on being economical with his pitch count. After four innings, he was averaging 14 pitches per inning, thanks in part to a six-pitch 1-2-3 second inning. That is an improvement from the 18.1 pitches per inning he had a season ago.

Right now, the Mets can afford to take their time with Wheeler in Triple-A because of the success they are having with their starting rotation despite Jason Vargas being on the disabled list to start the year. Plus, they are getting great contributions from Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman out of the bullpen.

When you look at the numbers for both starters as relievers, they have combined to strike out 12 batters (Gsellman has eight of them) and they have yet to walk anybody. Eventually, the Mets will need a fifth starter in the rotation, but the success those two are having as relievers will keep them with the big league club.

Meanwhile, the Mets are clearly showing they want Wheeler to be a starting pitcher by letting him figure it out in Las Vegas. With that being said, the Pacific Coast League isn’t exactly the best environment to figure things out when it is considered a hitter-friendly league.

Outside of Wheeler’s start, Dominic Smith played his second consecutive game for Las Vegas at first base. He went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts, but the one hit was an RBI double that got the scoring started for Las Vegas in the first as they eventually won the game, 5-2.

Wheeler still has some things to work on down in the minor leagues, but Friday night was still a good first step for him in 2018.

I graduated from St. John's University with a degree in sports management. I previously wrote about the Johnnies at Rumble In the Garden.