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Wheeler focuses on building arm strength

Mets hurler goes 4 2/3 innings, throws 'a lot of fastballs' vs. Marlins

Special to

JUPITER, Fla. -- Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler's first pitch clocked in at 94 mph on the radar gun, setting the tone for his third spring outing.

Wheeler's lone blemish was Jarrod Saltalamacchia's solo home run to right in the second inning of a 1-0 loss to the Marlins on Friday night at Roger Dean Stadium.

It snapped Wheeler's scoreless streak at seven innings after Wheeler opened Grapefruit League play with a pair of three-inning starts against the Astros and Braves. He threw 60 pitches (34 strikes) on Friday, scattering three hits, striking out two batters and walking one over 4 2/3 frames.

"I was just throwing a lot of fastballs, trying to get my arm strength up, get my location down," Wheeler said. "Could've been better, but I'm pleased with it."

The 23-year-old tossed three straight balls in the first before battling back to a full count on Donovan Solano. He reached 95 mph on ball four. Rob Brantly flied out to left and Jeff Baker lined out on a 4-3 double play. Of his 11 pitches, five went for strikes.

Saltalamacchia's blast to right led off the second as he connected on the seventh pitch of the at-bat. Wheeler bounced back with a pair of groundouts and a flyout.

"I thought he mixed four pitches well," Mets acting manager Bob Geren said. "His control was a little bit off early. He walked the first hitter of the game, and after that, he showed a good changeup, curveball, breaking ball. He had pretty good velocity. He breezed through it pretty good."

In the third, Wheeler needed just eight pitches to retire three batters. After Brian Bogusevic singled to right, Wheeler induced a 5-4-3 double play and a lineout to first.

Wheeler picked up his first strikeout with a 74-mph pitch that froze Brantly to start the fourth. Baker flied out to left before Saltalamacchia singled and Casey McGehee struck out looking.

"Before, I was just overstriding a little bit," Wheeler said of his changeup. "I was trying to keep it down instead of just letting it have its bite and work down by itself. Loosened up my grip just a tad, so it worked out a little bit better. Shortened out my stride, and trusting a little more of [it] breaking down instead of trying to throw it down."

Lefty Scott Rice came in for Wheeler with two outs and no men on in the fifth. Geren called it a "solid outing" and "right where [Wheeler] needs to be this time of year."

Wheeler started last year in Triple-A Las Vegas before getting called up midseason. In 17 big league games, he compiled a 7-5 record with a 3.42 ERA, striking out 84 batters in 100 innings.

Projected as the fourth starter in the rotation, Wheeler has concentrated on going deeper into games this season. Of his 17 starts in 2013, three went seven innings or more. Three consecutive outings in August lasted 6 2/3.

"That's good -- five innings is better than I usually do," Wheeler said. "Could be better, like I said, but I was just working on a lot of stuff. My changeup was a lot better today, timing was a little bit better out of the windup and the stretch."

Christina De Nicola is a contributor to

New York Mets, Zack Wheeler