Zack Wheeler combined with fellow rookie Travis d'Arnaud to give Mets fans a taste of the future on Tuesday. (AP)
NEW YORK -- Dreaming about the future of the Mets is no longer an exercise of checking minor league boxscores in between Matt Harvey starts. The headlining wave of prospects expected to turn the corner for the slumping franchise have trickled their way to Queens and, if supplemented with a veteran star or two via free agency, could realize real change.
This was evident on Tuesday night when an all-rookie battery of righthander Zack Wheeler and catcher Travis d’Arnaud led the way in a 5-3 victory over the division-leading Braves. Wheeler threw 6 2/3 innings for the win, and d’Arnaud lined a double into the left-center gap in the eighth inning for his first career hit.
While d’Arnaud called it “an incredible feeling” to notch his first hit with his father in the stands -- Mr. Lance d’Arnaud is soon to be the recipient of the ball, his son pledged -- Mets manager Terry Collins praised his young catcher’s “quick bat” and recounted that every scouting report he received on d’Arnaud had a common theme: “The one thing he’s going to do is hit,” Collins said, echoing the regular refrain.
And it ended an unfortunate 0-for-10 start to d’Arnaud’s career, though he has already worked five walks. “It was definitely weighing on me a little bit,” he said.
This was already Wheeler’s third start against Atlanta, and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Tuesday was his best of the three as Wheeler, a young Georgia native, allowed three runs (all in his final inning, the seventh) while striking out five.
“Today his command was really good, and all his secondary pitches were down in the zone,” Gonzalez said.
Wheeler hummed his fastball consistently in the 94-to-96 range, with a diving slider in the upper 80s, a slower breaking pitch in a mid-70s curveball and a once-in-a-blue-moon changeup.
“I’m learning the game more,” Wheeler said. “Attacking guys and trusting your stuff.”
Wheeler’s stuff, as he shows start after start, is worth trusting, and surely this is the first of many hits for d’Arnaud. Notably, it came when two other young Mets manned the corners, with first baseman Ike Davis continuing his torrid recall from the minors with an RBI single and mammoth solo home run and third baseman Wilmer Flores also in the lineup (though he went 0-for-4 on this night).
For as much pain as the fan base endured throughout this difficult rebuilding process, at least Wheeler and d’Arnaud are now tangible players making big league contributions instead of merely being ideas in name only, the bounty for trades of Carlos Beltran and R.A. Dickey. (Another prospect in the Dickey trade, righthander Noah Snydergaard is making a name for himself in Double A -- and so too are his gloves, which apparently carry names as well, ranging from Lion to Drago, according to this fun story in the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin.)
Warm nights like this one are why 25,863 tickets were sold for a game in which the home team tailed the opponent by 18 1/2 games in the standings. (No offense to the Mets’ Home Run Apple Bank giveaway.) The prospects themselves won’t be enough to make this team a perennial contender, but with the addition of a veteran star or two to supplement Harvey, David Wright and the rookies, then a winning ballclub at Citi Field doesn’t require such imagination anymore.