NEW YORK -- Each of Zack Wheeler's starts this month has drawn scouts from around baseball, as rumors spread that he could be a more affordable trade alternative to Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Wheeler brushes off the implications, joking that he's already been traded and "fake traded" in his career. Whatever comes will come.
That Wheeler is mentioned at all in trade rumors, of course, is a nod to his rapidly improving resume. In pitching into the eighth inning of the Mets' 7-4 victory over the Nationals on Saturday at Citi Field, Wheeler won his first game since April 29. More than that, he stretched his run of consistency out to the better part of two months, imbuing more faith in his coaches and teammates than, quite possibly, they've ever had in the unpredictable pitcher.
The latest bit of proof came in the eighth inning Saturday, when, after a brief mound conversation, manager Mickey Callaway chose to stick with Wheeler instead of turning to an oft-shaky bullpen. Although the move did not work -- Matt Adams homered to chase Wheeler from the game -- it underscored how far the right-hander has come in the past two months.
"At this moment, he's earned the right to kind of get some say in things because he's pitched so well," Callaway said. "He's earned everything that he's gotten. The numbers speak for themselves at this point."
Time will tell if Wheeler's midsummer surge -- he owns a 3.61 ERA since the start of June -- will indeed make him trade bait prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. He's certainly doing nothing to diminish a potential return, limiting the Nationals to just two baserunners over the game's first five innings.
Trouble did not find Wheeler until the sixth, when two singles and a walk loaded the bases. Bryce Harper followed with an RBI hit to right, keeping the bases loaded and giving the Nationals a chance to unravel Wheeler's entire afternoon. He responded with a 91-mph slider that Adams bashed into the ground for an easy inning-ending double play.
An inning later, Jose Reyes' defensive misplay extended an inning for the Nats, bringing up Harper with a man on base and one out. Rather than turn to lefty specialist Jerry Blevins, whom Harper burned on Thursday, Callaway stuck with Wheeler. The right-hander struck out Harper before serving up Adams' homer.
"I'm walking out there to see if he wants to stay, and I'm not even halfway and he's like, 'I want to stay in the game,'" Callaway said. "I don't know if you would have seen that in the past. He wanted to stay out there and face their best hitters."
The Mets cracked rookie starter Austin Voth for seven runs in his big league debut. A seven-batter rally in the second inning resulted in the first three, before Michael Conforto bashed a three-run homer to double the margin in the fifth. It was Conforto's first home run, and just his eighth hit, in his last 16 games.
The Mets were glad to see that, considering Conforto's outsized role in the organization's future. Wheeler's future is cloudier, given the possibility that the Mets could deal him before July 31 -- a possibility that grows every time he delivers another strong outing.
"That is a compliment," Wheeler said. "I feel like I'm pitching a lot better than my numbers right now. I feel comfortable, I feel in command out there. Yeah, it's a compliment whenever that comes up."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Sitting on 60 consecutive plate appearances without a home run, Conforto bashed a Voth fastball over the heart of the plate 375 feet to right -- as projected by Statcast™ -- doubling the Mets' lead in the fifth. Although it was only Conforto's second extra-base hit in his past 16 games, the three-run shot was his third hit in his last three contests.
"I got just enough of it," Conforto said. "It's funny how that ends up turning into a home run. I'll try and do more of that."
Another trade candidate, closer Jeurys Familia pitched a perfect ninth to notch his 17th save in 21 chances. Familia has thrown seven consecutive scoreless innings, allowing just one hit in July. He is unscored upon in 10 of his last 11 outings.
HE SAID IT
"I want to be here, but we're in a tough position right now. It's not my call. I've been through it before. I've been traded. I've been fake traded. So I've pretty much been through it all. Nothing new for me." -- Wheeler, on trade rumors
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Umpires initiated a crew-chief review when Adams' homer appeared to strike a fan, preventing it from clearing the orange home run line on the outfence. The initial call of a two-run homer stood after a brief review.
The Mets close out their first half on Sunday behind a pitcher who could play a significant role in the second half. Rookie Corey Oswalt, who submitted his best start as a big leaguer last time out, will pitch opposite Nationals right-hander Jeremy Hellickson in a 1:10 p.m. ET game at Citi Field.