After Zack Wheeler's latest start, the sense that his days in Las Vegas are numbered has only intensified.
The Mets' No. 2 prospect allowed two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out seven over 7 1/3 innings Saturday night as the 51s edged Albuquerque, 4-3.
It was his best start so far at Las Vegas' scoring-conducive Cashman Field.
The 22-year-old right-hander has given up three runs over 20 innings, giving him a 1.35 ERA with 19 strikeouts against three walks in his last three starts. On Thursday, the (New York) Daily News quoted an unnamed Mets official who said, "[Wheeler] has had two good ones and if he has two more, you'll see him up here. If all goes well, we're talking about June 1 at the latest."
It wasn't a definitive statement, by any means, but after Saturday's outing, it's possible MLB.com's No. 8 overall prospect could be just a start or two away from Citi Field.
"I think the kid is on a mission. His last three starts have all been quality starts," 51s manager Wally Backman said. "To me, just looking at the kid, knowing him, having him for part of last year and this year, he smells it. He knows what's in front of him and he's going at it as a professional, in the right way. As long as he puts up zeros the organization will have to make some decision on that shortly."
Wheeler needed a few Triple-A starts to find his rhythm. That was especially true at home, where the Georgia native had a 6.34 ERA in three starts heading into Saturday.
Beginning with an April 30 start at Reno, where he struck out eight and allowed one run over 6 2/3 frames, he's gotten on a run that's shown he's adjusted to the environs in the Pacific Coast League.
Overall, Wheeler is 2-1 with a 3.74 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 17 walks in 36 innings. And that's enough to generate all the conversation about how close he is to the Major Leagues.
Count Backman as a believer.
"He has made some huge improvements over his last three starts. He's worked with [pitching coach] Randy St. Claire, who's done a wonderful job of showing him video, some of the mechanical issues he might have had. And he responded to it," the former Major League infielder said. "He did what he had to do to overcome the problem. He was very receptive to what Randy has told him and he's gotten a lot better in his last three starts.
" He showed the consistency with all of his pitches and he's throwing everything for strikes. He's showing what you have to do at the Major League level to be a successful Major Leaguer. There's no question, his stuff doesn't play to be an average Major League pitcher -- his stuff plays to be a very, very quality Major League pitcher. I think to all of us in the organization it's just a matter of being consistent, and he's shown it his last three starts."
Backman didn't venture a guess as to when Wheeler would arrive in New York, but he did say that he thought his starter could hold his own against a big league lineup right now.
"I'd love to keep the kid. The more we can season him at the Minor League level, the better he's going to be when he gets to the Major League level. But can he pitch in the big leagues tomorrow? Absolutely," Backman said.
"Does he need more seasoning? Maybe. But I said that about Matt Harvey last year, too, and the rest is kind of history."
Harvey quickly has emerged as the Mets' ace with a 4-0 record and 1.28 ERA in seven starts. On Tuesday against the White Sox, he allowed only an infield single and struck out 12 over nine scoreless innings.