Baseball, particularly for pitchers, is a game of adjustments.
Top Mets pitching prospect Zack Wheeler hadn't had the best of starts to his season, staring at a 5.79 ERA after his fifth outing of the year, a five-inning, five-run performance against Tacoma on April 25.
The right-hander put in some time in the video room, corrected his mechanics and began to bear the fruits of his labor with his first win of the season on Tuesday against Reno.
In his next trip to the mound on Sunday, he gave further evidence he's consolidated those gains.
Wheeler held Sacramento scoreless for six innings, allowing only three hits and a walk while striking out four to lead Triple-A Las Vegas to a 6-2 road win over the first-place River Cats.
The end points are arbitrary, of course, but the difference between Wheeler's first five starts and his back-to-back victories are stark. MLB.com's No. 8 overall prospect had a 5.79 ERA over 23 1/3 innings with 28 strikeouts and 15 walks. He was averaging fewer than five innings per outing.
In his two wins, averaging 6 1/3 innings per start, he's got a 0.71 ERA with 12 strikeouts against only two walks.
"You just try to build off the last start, if it was a good one," Wheeler said. "I think the last time, the start before last, I tried to build off that. And the last start was good, so you try to build off it, and it just went well for me. I was able to pound the zone, get the ball down, get ahead of guys."
It wasn't an entirely different story last season, when the 22-year-old made his Triple-A debut. Pitching for Buffalo in the International League, Wheeler had a 4.71 ERA through four starts before reeling off back-to-back wins to end the year, finishing with a 3.27 ERA over 33 innings.
"It usually happens every year. There's a little bit of a slow start, you start making tweaks and adjustments and find it," he said. "I just want to carry it from here. It's baseball, you know. You gotta make those adjustments and just pitch."
Wheeler has knocked his ERA down by almost two runs to 4.00 ERA over those last two starts and has recorded 40 strikeouts against 17 walks. After his last start on Tuesday against the Aces, he explained he'd been rotating too far and wasn't keeping his shoulders square to the plate his first few times out.
Once that flaw was corrected, things came together. And they stayed that way Sunday afternoon.
"I definitely felt good. I was keeping my shoulder square to the plate, which allows me to have a bit better command, get out in front of hits," Wheeler explained. "It feels comfortable, feels good. Before, the command was off, and the mechanics allow me to hit spots a little bitter, sharpens up my pitches."
Collin Cowgill powered Las Vegas offensively, going 2-for-4 with a three-run homer in the seventh inning. Omar Quintanilla staked Wheeler and the 51s to an early lead with a two-run double in the second.
A's No. 3 prospect Michael Choice went 2-for-4 and has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games for the River Cats.