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Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Wheels up for 2014 Grapefruit debut

By Adam Rubin

Zack Wheeler
Wheeler looked like he was in midseason form on Tuesday afternoon.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Noah Syndergaard may be receiving the bulk of the attention, but Zack Wheeler isn't exactly an afterthought.

A day after Syndergaard dominated the Atlanta Braves at Disney, Wheeler breezed through three scoreless innings in his 2014 Grapefruit League debut, against the Houston Astros on Tuesday.

"It definitely is more calmed down," Wheeler said, contrasting this spring training with 2013, when he was the center of attention. "It's just a little bit more relaxed knowing everybody and knowing what I have to do, so I'm not always head on a swivel and rushed and all kinds of stuff like that. I'm just more relaxed and focused.

"I don't think there was any pressure or anything," he continued, referring to last spring training. "Like I said, it was a lot of attention. But you know me. I'm just laid back. I don't know how many times I can say that. I just go with the flow.

"I told Noah if he needs any help with anything, I'm here for him. I'm sure [Matt] Harvey is, too. It's nice just to sit back and watch."

Wheeler topped out at 96 mph while limiting Houston to two hits and striking out three. He threw an efficient 40 pitches (26 strikes).

"I just tried to attack guys, get ahead of them. That's my plan going into this season -- keeping the pitch count down, getting ahead of guys, so I can go a little deeper into games," said Wheeler, who averaged less than six innings a start during his rookie season. "... Getting them in three pitches or less, that's sort of what they brought us up on in the minor leagues. Three pitches or less, that was one of our stats on the chart. That's always been in my head. It's definitely time to put that in place."

The lone hits: A one-out, full-count double down the third-base line by Jesus Guzman in the second inning and a single to left-center by Cesar Izturis in the third. Izturis was thrown out by center fielder Chris Young trying to stretch the hit into a double.

Wheeler required only 10 pitches in the first inning to retire Dexter Fowler, Jose Altuve and Marc Krauss. He then had a prolonged delay as the Mets, fueled by Curtis Granderson's two-run homer, had a three-run bottom half of the inning that included knocking out starting pitcher Rudy Owens.

In the second, Wheeler shattered Chris Carter's bat on a groundout to shortstop to open the frame. Guzman then worked the count full and doubled, but Wheeler rallied by coaxing a flyout to center field from Carlos Corporan and striking out L.J. Hoes on a 93 mph fastball.

Wheeler struck out Jonathan Villar on a 94 mph fastball to open the third. After Izturis was retired attempting a double, Wheeler fanned Fowler on an 80 mph curveball to end his outing.

"In the bullpen it was terrible," Wheeler said about his curveball. "I was kind of worried about it, but you've got to throw it. It's spring training. Let's work on stuff. When stuff isn't working, you've got to throw it and make adjustments, so you know what kind of adjustments to make later on in the season. With Fowler, we were fastball, offspeed, fastball, offspeed, fastball, offspeed. So I wanted to double up on the offspeed. I think I caught him off guard a little bit."