It’s taken New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler a little while to really turn up the heat on his fastball since Tommy John surgery, but it finally seems to be back.
Lost in what ended up being a disappointing four-game sweep at the hands of the Chicago Cubs was the performance of the New York Mets‘ starting rotation. Three hurlers registered quality starts, while the lone game it didn’t happen was when Seth Lugo was on a strict pitch count through four shutout frames.
Zack Wheeler owned one of these quality starts. He ended up taking a no-decision despite allowing just two runs on seven hits, two walks, and four strikeouts in six innings of work. Another encouraging aspect of this performance included how he was lighting up the radar gun.
Obviously, we don’t want pitchers getting too attached to how hard they’re throwing. Still, it’s impossible to deny the cheddar Wheeler was tossing up to the plate on Friday night, as David Adler of MLB.com pointed out just a few innings into the game.
Zack Wheeler has topped out at 98.8 mph after 3 innings at Citi Field, and he's thrown 10 fastballs 98+ mph.
Wheeler's only thrown 6 pitches faster than 98.8 in his career — all pre-Tommy John — and he's only thrown double-digit pitches 98+ mph once, on August 5, 2014. pic.twitter.com/LQVtA9E9Dx
— David Adler (@_dadler) June 2, 2018
This is certainly a welcome sight for Wheeler, who missed the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to Tommy John surgery and the setbacks that followed. He averaged 94.6 miles per hour on his fastball in 2017 and is currently throwing that pitch at an average velocity of 95.0 mph in 2018 (the same as 2014).
Although the right-hander’s year didn’t start off the way he hoped — it’s doubtful he thought he’d begin the season in Triple-A — things have been getting better.
Wheeler has taken the mound for 10 big-league starts thus far. His first five starts yielded a 5.79 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 19.1 percent strikeout rate and 8.7 percent walk rate in 28 innings. He completed at least six innings on three occasions, with only two of those being quality starts.
Over his most recent five starts, the 28-year-old has produced just a 4.50 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, but he’s seen progress in his strikeout rate (26.4 percent) and walk rate (8.0 percent) in another 28 innings. He’s lasted at least six innings four times, with quality starts happening three times.
It’s been a long and frustrating road for Wheeler since returning to the mound following his surgery. There have been small signs of improvement, though. His recent ability to light up the radar gun like never before as a professional has to help him feel confident moving forward.