JUPITER, Fla. — Zack Wheeler dominated on Thursday. That is not to be confused with Noah Syndergaard dominating on Wednesday or Jacob deGrom flashing Cy Young mastery on Monday.
“I think it can be special,’’ Wheeler said of the Mets’ rotation after throwing 5 ¹/₃ shutout innings in a 1-1 tie with the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.
It’s time. They all know it’s time.
“It’s been how many years now we’ve all been trying to do it, everybody has been hurt at separate times, so hopefully everybody can stay healthy and pitch like we are capable,’’ Wheeler said, “and I think we can be pretty dangerous.’’
What message are Mets pitchers sending to the rest of baseball this spring?
“I think they are sending a big one,’’ manager Mickey Callaway said, “you have to be on top of your game to score some runs against them and they are going to go at you.
“I saw a stat today that Zack Wheeler last year, two out of his first three pitches were strikes 70 percent of the time. I mean that’s uncanny.’’
Wheeler allowed two hits Thursday, did not walk a batter and struck out four as he continues to build off his dynamic success last season, when he went 9-1 with a 1.68 ERA after the All-Star break.
“I don’t see any ceiling for him,’’ said catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who made his first Grapefruit League start behind the plate this season. “Every pitch is elite. His demeanor out there is that he doesn’t care who is in the box, he is coming after you, he’s not afraid of anybody. No matter who you are or where your red zones are, he is not afraid.’’
Syndergaard did not give up a run over 5 ²/₃ innings in his start Wednesday and deGrom gave up two runs over five innings Monday. Steven Matz, who starts Friday, pitched four scoreless innings in his most recent start, so that is only two runs off those four starters in four starts.
“We’re going to go attack guys with really good stuff and that’s what it’s going to take to be the best staff in baseball and these guys have it in them,’’ Callaway said.
Over his past two starts, Wheeler has found the rhythm to pitch inside on hitters, which is his calling card. Over that span he has thrown 9 ¹/₃ shutout innings, allowing only three hits.
Yes, this is only spring training, but so far Mets starters are living up to the big hype.
“I don’t think spring training matters all that much, but you want to start trending in that direction as you get closer to the season and everybody is looking good right now,’’ Wheeler said. “Everybody wants to be at the highest peak there is.
“It’s nice to throw back-to-back starts like I did. I’m starting to throw in a lot more consistently like I want, mixing my pitches up and moving it all around the zone.’’
That means high strikes too.
Mets starters, especially deGrom last year, learned the value of making anti-launch-angle pitches, making that popular upper-cut swing work against those hitters by throwing high fastballs.
“That’s a standard Zack Wheeler outing now,’’ Callaway said. “I think he understands who he can be, who he is and what he’s all about. We see that in the weight room. We see it in the clubhouse and we see it out on the mound.’’
A deGrom extension is No. 1 on the Mets’ to-do list but extending Wheeler should be No. 1A. The Mets need to keep Wheeler, who can be a free agent after this season, in their rotation if they are serious about winning, and not let him escape to his hometown Braves or to the Phillies.
Wheeler insisted there is no extra pressure on him this season.
“I’m not really worried about that, it’s going to figure itself out,’’ Wheeler said.
The Mets need to worry about it.
Callaway said Wheeler has joined deGrom and Syndergaard on that top tier of pitching effectiveness.
“He’s definitely in that category right now,’’ Callaway said.
Ace A, B and C.