Stellar start earns Wheeler visit from icon

Pedro Martinez congratulates righty after scoreless 4-inning outing

March 9th, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As stood in the corridor near the visiting clubhouse discussing Saturday’s outing against the Red Sox, a familiar face appeared seemingly out of nowhere, extending a hand to congratulate the Mets pitcher on his day’s work.

It was Pedro Martinez. Nary a word was spoken between them as Wheeler continued to talk to reporters, but the moment meant a lot to the 28-year-old.

“He’s one of the best,” Wheeler said of the Hall of Famer, who works as a special assistant in the Red Sox front office. “Pedro, I watched him a lot growing up. To get that stamp of approval is pretty cool.”

Martinez had just watched Wheeler dominate the Red Sox – who started the majority of their everyday lineup – over four scoreless innings, giving up one hit and no walks, striking out three in a 10-2 win.

“Looking at the lineup coming in today, it sort of pumps you up a little bit,” Wheeler said. “[It] gets the juices flowing during Spring Training, which doesn’t really happen all that much.”

Christian Vazquez’s two-out single in the third was the lone blemish for Wheeler, who needed just 43 pitches (31 strikes) to get through his four frames. The top five hitters in Boston’s lineup (Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts) were a combined 0-for-9 with two strikeouts.

“He has confidence,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “You see it, just his ability to relax and let the ball go with ease. It’s 97, 98 with great break on it. It’s fun to watch, and I’m sure it’s fun for him to be able to go out there and know he just has to get ready for the season.”

The outing was a stark change from Wheeler’s first two starts this spring, during which he allowed five runs (three earned) on five hits and two walks, fanning just one batter over 2 2/3 innings. His spring ERA plummeted from 10.13 to 4.05.

Wheeler watched some video from his dominant second-half stretch last season between starts, but it was a slight mechanical adjustment he made during one of his side sessions this week that may have helped him get back on track.

“It was basically my leg lift was sort of pushing me back on my heel instead of staying over the rubber and driving down through the ball,” Wheeler said. “My first two starts have been terrible, so today it was really nice to get out there, face their main guys and do well.”

Finding Nimmo

Brandon Nimmo has been slowly feeling more like himself after missing some time with a virus, taking at-bats anywhere he can find them. Saturday marked his best day of the spring as he went 2-for-4 with a triple, a run scored and two RBI. In his first four games, Nimmo was 2-for-15 with six strikeouts and no extra-base hits.

“It’s one day; there’s still a lot of work to do, but today is more encouraging,” Nimmo said. “I had better at-bats, laid off pitches better. Things are coming, slowly but surely. We’re constantly working on the swing in the morning, watching video. We’ll continue to do that, but today was a step in the right direction.”

Worth noting

Keon Broxton left Saturday’s game in the sixth inning following a violent collision with the outfield wall while trying to make a play on Devers’ deep fly ball. Callaway said Broxton banged his hip into the wall, but after walking off the field on his own, he “checked out OK.”

Amed Rosario, out since being hit by a pitch on his left hand Monday against the Red Sox, is scheduled to return to action Sunday

J.D. Davis went 3-for-4 to raise his spring average to .324 (11-for-35) as he continues to fight for a roster spot. Davis also made a few stellar plays at third base that caught Callaway’s eye.

Up next

The Mets host the Cardinals at First Data Field Sunday at 1:10 p.m. ET. LHP Steven Matz is scheduled to start for the Mets, while RHP Edwin Diaz, RHP Robert Gsellman, LHP Justin Wilson and RHP Jeurys Familia are also slated to pitch.