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Tuesday, June 25, 2013
W2W4: Zack Wheeler's second start

By Mark Simon

A look at the statistical storylines for Zack Wheeler's second start on Tuesday night.

Second thoughts
Last week we wrote about best major-league debuts as a Met, and Wheeler’s rated among the more notable pitching performances. He’ll be challenged to make his way atop the list of best Mets performances in a pitcher’s second career game.

Tops on that list is a 10-inning shutout of the Milwaukee Braves by heralded prospect Dick Selma in 1965. More recently, two members of the current pitching staff held opponents scoreless in their second outings -- Jonathon Niese against the Braves over eight innings in 2008, and Dillon Gee over six innings against the Pirates in 2010.

Of a slightly different nature, Wheeler will attempt to become the third Mets pitcher to hold an opponent scoreless in the first two starts of his career. The others are Grover Powell (1963) and Hisanori Takahashi (2010).

The Mets have played only three games at U.S. Cellular Field, all in 2002. The only Mets starter to win there was Pedro Astacio.

A manageable lineup
Wheeler walked five in his first start, but he’s facing a team that doesn’t walk much. White Sox hitters had the lowest walk rate (6.6 percent of plate appearances) and lowest on-base percentage (.295) in the American League entering the week.

It’s a lineup with a lot of fly-ball hitters. The White Sox hit grounders on 41 percent of their batted balls, the second-lowest rate in the AL.

Matchups to Watch: Wheeler vs. Rios, Dunn
The White Sox best all-around hitter is Alex Rios, who rates as one of the best in the game at hitting hard throwers.

Rios is 25-for-72 over the past two seasons, though with no home runs, when an at-bat ends with a fastball from a righty thrown at least 95 miles per hour. The average hitter misses about once every five swings on pitches thrown at least that hard. Rios misses at a rate of once every nine swings.

Rios also rates as the best White Sox hitter against breaking balls from righties. He is the only White Sox hitter with multiple homers against curves and sliders this season (three) and is 21-for-70 when an at-bat ends with a breaking ball from a righty.

The White Sox hottest hitter at the moment is Adam Dunn, who is hitting .340 with seven homers in his last 14 games.

Dunn had a very tough time catching up to fastballs of 95+ last season, but has been much better in a limited sample in 2013. His seven hits against pitches of that speed this season are as many as he had in all of 2012.

Rios and Dunn do share a common thread. They are both a little vulnerable to pitches thrown to the top of the strike zone, or just above it.

Wheeler’s mound opponent
Wheeler will be opposed by one of the best young pitchers in the AL, Chris Sale, who was drafted 13th overall -- six picks after Matt Harvey -- in 2010.

Sale is 0-4 this month, despite an ERA of 3.08.

Sale is averaging 92.6 mph on his fastball this season, topping out at 98 mph.

The Mets lineup will likely be all right-handed hitters. Lefties are 7-for-63 against Sale this season.