(Long Island, N.Y.) Even on a team with zero expectations comes a good deal of pressure to perform, especially when you’re a hot shot rookie pitcher being looked at as a potential ace down the road. Zack Wheeler even added to the fanfare by pitching an exceptional game in his major league debut, but one start does not make a career, season or even month. So the young righthander may have actually done himself a favor by faltering the other evening in Chicago.
Before you go back and see if you read that last sentence wrong, save yourself a few seconds and just continue. That’s right; the kid with so much talent will be better off in the long run by experiencing some misfortune right away. Wheeler (1-1) was tagged for four runs in 5 1/3 innings in a loss to the White Sox and with that, may have brought some of the high expectations back down to earth. Even if he himself hasn’t shown any braggadocio, the fans and media have already put him on a pedestal that no rookie needs to have as added pressure.
Even Terry Collins couldn’t help himself in praising Wheeler and putting a little more emphasis on his arrival and the organization as a whole. “If he pitches good, I think that there’s going to be a little gleam of sunlight here if everybody looks at the big picture down the road at what may be,” the Mets manager said.
So by getting hit around by the ChiSox, Wheeler will get a chance to see how it feels to wait around for your next start on the losing end, and weigh the differences from the first time. Even the best of the best have their off games and Wheeler is certainly no exception, especially playing on a team with a lack of talent.
When this season is all said and done, Wheeler will most likely have solidified his spot in the rotation for years to come. Coupled with Matt Harvey, the Mets will have a tough one-two punch at the top of the starting rotation and their rebuilding phase will be in an upward swing if that happens.
Pitching and defense wins in this league, so the Mets will have to address the latter when the time is right. But pitching is the hardest part of building a contender and if they can get these two young men to lead the way, then it will be a much easier fix.
By being humbled a little, Wheeler will gain more from the experience than even if he pitched well enough to win and received a no-decision in the box score. To work harder each time out, there are moments of failure that can make a person stronger for the next opportunity. Wheeler will still have all the eyes on him, but a rookie can take a lot out of each and every game – win or lose. And that will be the next test for Wheeler in his quest to become a regular at this level.