Wheeler the first 100/100 pitcher in 2019
Hard-throwing righty hits first career HR at 101.4 mph exit velocity
NEW YORK -- For a Major League batter, hitting a ball at least 100 mph is a relatively common feat. For a pitcher, less so, though 13 of them have managed it this season. Throwing a ball at least 100 mph? While more common than ever, it's still a rare accomplishment, with only 12 pitchers reaching that third digit in 2019.
The middle section of the Venn diagram -- pitchers who have both hit a ball and thrown a pitch at least 100 mph this season -- consists of one man. Earlier this month in Atlanta, Zack Wheeler reached 100.6 mph on the radar gun, according to Statcast data. Tuesday, he crushed his first career homer 101.4 mph to the opposite field, capping arguably the most productive game of his career. In a 9-0 rout of the Phillies at Citi Field, Wheeler homered, doubled and knocked home three runs at the plate, while striking out 11 over seven scoreless innings.
Somewhat appropriately, Wheeler did it in his 100th career start.
"He's nasty," Mets third baseman Todd Frazier said. "God, he makes it look easy."
In so doing, Wheeler joined a select group, becoming the fifth Met to homer and strike out double-digit batters in the same game. (The fourth, Jacob deGrom, accomplished the feat earlier this month.) The Mets also became the first club since at least 1908 to receive homers from three different pitchers in their first 25 games.
"He did everything right," manager Mickey Callaway said of Wheeler.
Entering the night, the Mets were mostly concerned with Wheeler the pitcher. While the right-hander had shown flashes of improvement throughout April, he still had not unlocked the formula that made him one of baseball's most successful starters in the second half last season. At his best, Wheeler can throw five electric pitches, from a four-seam fastball that hits triple digits to a hammer curve and diving splitter.
He mixed in all of them in the early innings, striking out 11 of the first 18 batters he faced. Only once did the Phillies put a runner in scoring position, when Maikel Franco doubled with two outs in the fourth. But when the next batter singled to left to threaten the shutout, Jeff McNeil threw out Franco attempting to score from second.
By that point, Wheeler had provided all the offense the Mets would need, pulling a two-run double to right field in the second inning and scoring on a Cesar Hernandez error. Two innings later, suspecting Phillies starter Zach Eflin might try to sneak a first-pitch fastball by him, Wheeler crushed it to left-center for his first career homer. He became the 11th Mets pitcher to record two extra-base hits in a game, and the first since Noah Syndergaard homered twice on May 11, 2016.
"Pitching's obviously first, but we work a lot on our hitting," Wheeler said. "We take pride in it. We want to go up there and do well as a staff and not give them an easy out. Luckily, I wasn't an easy out tonight."
Not many pitchers have thrown a 100-mph pitch and hit a 100-mph batted ball in the same season since Statcast began tracking in 2015. Wheeler is one of 14 in that club, several of whom have done it in more than one year. That includes Wheeler, who already was one of five to accomplish the feat in '18, along with Nathan Eovaldi, Mike Foltynewicz, two-way star Shohei Ohtani and Syndergaard.
Ask Wheeler, though, and he's more likely to wax poetic about his seven shutout innings. Staked to an eight-run lead in the middle innings thanks to Frazier's grand slam, Wheeler navigated the sixth without issue, batted in the bottom of the inning -- a strikeout, if you'd believe it -- then buzzed through his final three Phillies on seven pitches in the seventh. All told, he threw 105 pitches and allowed five hits. He did not walk a batter.
That, for the Mets, was most exciting of all. Particularly with deGrom on the injured list and Syndergaard struggling, Wheeler has become a critical figure in the Mets' rotation. As much as ever, the team needs him to thrive -- whether the radar gun registers 100 mph or not.
"His mechanics are synced up," Callaway said. "He's feeling good. That's probably one of the best games I've ever seen him throw."