NEW YORK -- The promise of what Zack Wheeler could be is still there.
So is some of the frustration about what he has yet to become.
One start after a three-hit shutout that displayed all of Wheeler's great potential, the 24-year-old New York Mets right-hander turned in a two-inning, six-run stinker that reminded everyone that he still has a ways to go. Wheeler had velocity but no command in Wednesday night's 8-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics, and his explanation that it looked like the A's knew what was coming didn't sound all that convincing.
Wheeler allowed a long two-run home run to Brandon Moss in the first inning, on a hanging changeup with a runner on first. But in the middle of his disastrous 34-pitch second inning, Wheeler called catcher Travis d'Arnaud to the mound and asked to change the signs, because he thought that when the A's had a runner at second base, they seemed to be getting swings that were too good.
The signs issue could have been real, but it wasn't really much of an explanation for what happened in the shortest of Wheeler's 33 career starts. Wheeler set up the four-run inning by giving up a single and a pair of walks, and the big blow was a three-run Yoenis Cespedes double that came on a hanging breaking ball that any good major-league hitter should have pounded (no matter what he thought was coming).
"I did so well last time," Wheeler said. "I know I have it. Just a bad outing."
If Wheeler can bounce back to display more of what he showed against the Marlins, it will be easier to look back on this one as just a blip. As manager Terry Collins pointed out, Wheeler will no doubt be pumped up for his next start, which will come in Atlanta against his hometown Braves.
"He pitched so well last week that you thought he would really grab the opportunity and take off," Collins said. "But a lot of times you do see a letdown after a game like that."
Wheeler's first pitch of the night was a 98 mph fastball, so velocity obviously wasn't a problem. But Wheeler's command was a different story, apparently even as he warmed up in the bullpen.
If Wheeler becomes the pitcher the Mets believe he can be, he should be able to battle through games like this. Instead, he left the Mets in so big a hole they had little chance to ever come back.
"I haven't seen him hit that hard, probably ever," Collins said.
It wasn't all with runners on second base, whether the A's were relaying signs or not.