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Monday, June 24, 2013
Zack aims to cut down on walks in encore

By Adam Rubin

Zack Wheeler had an atypical between-starts travel routine: Fly commercially from Atlanta to Tucson, Ariz., to join the Triple-A team on the road, follow the Las Vegas 51s back home to Nevada, then fly on to Chicago on Sunday afternoon to meet up with the Mets in advance of the top prospect's second major league start.

"It's just like any other start," Wheeler nonetheless insisted Sunday, before boarding his flight to the Windy City. "It's not a big deal. I sort of got a heads up on this a while back."

Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesZack Wheeler returns to the mound for his second major league start Tuesday in Chicago.

Wheeler opposes Chicago White Sox left-hander Chris Sale, the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft, when the Mets open a two-game interleague series on Tuesday at 8:10 p.m. ET.

Wheeler will be pitching with two extra days of rest.

He tossed six scoreless innings in his major league debut at Turner Field in Atlanta, albeit walking five and surrendering four hits while striking out seven. He became the third pitcher in franchise history to earn a win while tossing at least six scoreless innings in his major league debut, joining Masato Yoshii (April 5, 1998) and Dick Rusteck (June 10, 1966).

Two of Wheeler's walks came in the first inning, likely associated with adrenaline and nervous energy from making his major league debut. Still, asked what he most wanted to improve upon from his debut, Wheeler said: "I guess just throwing strikes. I walked a lot of people last time."

To account for the extra two days between starts, Wheeler threw a normal bullpen session Friday for Triple-A pitching coach Randy St. Claire. He then threw a light session Sunday off a mound before heading to the airport.

Wheeler was in a 51s uniform for the Las Vegas games, even though the transaction simply was designed to free up a major league roster spot.

Although it may have been beneficial to keep him around the major league team, the Mets were able to carry an extra usable player between Wheeler's starts by temporarily dispatching him to the minors. Wheeler technically was the 26th man for last Tuesday's debut, so the rule about needing to stay in the minors 10 days before returning to the majors does not apply.

Wheeler, like the other Las Vegas players, watched some of the Mets telecasts this past week.

"We catch parts of it when we're down here because obviously it's three hours ahead," Wheeler said, referring to the time-zone difference. "We usually catch a little bit of it."

He downplayed the significance of his second major league start.

"It's just another start," Wheeler said. "That's really all there is to it. ... It's just another team, another level. Obviously it's a little bit bigger stage, but I'm ready to do my job and hopefully help the team."