Zack Wheeler may not have much left to prove at Double-A, but he's not admitting that.
"You could be in [Class A] and you'll still be challenged. They have an idea, but obviously the more you go up, the more patient guys get," Wheeler said.
The question now is, how much longer will the Mets be?
Wheeler turned in another typical line Thursday, holding Harrisburg to an unearned run on two hits over seven innings as Binghamton beat the Senators, 4-1, at Metro Bank Park.
Wheeler struck out seven -- the fifth straight start he's whiffed at least that many -- and walked four en route to his sixth win. Approaching 100 pitches, Mets manager Pedro Lopez let his prized right-hander take the mound for the seventh and was rewarded with an efficient frame. Wheeler walked the leadoff man, but struck out Chris McConnell and got an inning-ending double play to finish his night at 104 pitches.
For Wheeler, all signs at this stage point to Triple-A Buffalo. Wheeler's consistency this year has Mets fans excited, and they have a right to be -- the former Giants prospect is 6-2 with a 1.66 ERA in 10 Double-A starts. He's a strikeout machine, has yet to allow more than two runs in a game and hasn't lost since mid-April.
Walks have been the only thing to nitpick about Wheeler in his career, and he's shown some improvement this season in the Eastern League. In 59 2/3 innings, the native of Smyrna, Ga., has walked 25 batters. He's also struck out 67, allowed just one home run and has held batters to a .160 average.
"It's still tough, but I'm feeling good right now," Wheeler said. "So far it's been working out."
In his 10 starts, Wheeler has worked at least five innings in each of his last nine, induced seven double plays and allowed just 32 hits in those 59 2/3 innings. His 67 strikeouts lead the Eastern League and his 1.66 ERA ranks second.
Among all Double-A pitchers, he's tied for third in strikeouts and ERA.
Irrelevant in his progress but interesting nonetheless, a poll of fans taken on a Mets blog Thursday night before Wheeler's start showed they were 55/45 in favor of promoting Wheeler to Buffalo.
What does the man himself think about that? He hesitated a little before answering.
"You gotta go up every time and pitch, you can't worry about that stuff. If you worry about it, you might do too much," he said. "All you can do is stay down here and do your job and pitch well ... try to sharpen up all your stuff every outing and hopefully it'll work out."
The Senators got their first hit off Wheeler in the first on Manny Mayorson's one-out single to left. Wheeler erased his next baserunner in the second when Beau Seabury bounced into a double play.
Wheeler escaped a jam unscathed in the fourth when McConnell was thrown out trying to steal home. Wheeler beaned the shortstop to start the frame, and McConnell -- not known for his speed -- tried to make him pay later that inning when he stole second (his first steal of the season) and advanced to third on Eury Perez's single. Harrisburg then attempted a double steal, with McConnell getting gunned down at the plate after Mets catcher Kai Gronauer fired to second and second baseman Rylan Sandoval threw back home.
"Their guy tried to steal second, but we cut it off and threw the guy out at home," said Wheeler. "I was pretty pumped."
The thievery didn't seem to rattle Wheeler, who struck out two in a 1-2-3 fourth and worked around a leadoff walk in the fifth.
Things got messy in the sixth, though, when consecutive Mets errors forced Wheeler to again induce a double play. He walked Tim Pahuta with two outs, but third baseman Jefry Marte's fielding error -- the third error of the inning by the Mets -- allowed Perez to score.
"I had a long inning with three errors in the sixth, and after I was out, I went up there and hit -- and I struck out," Wheeler said about coming out for the seventh. "I just kept on going. When I went back out for the seventh, I just tried to go out there and get those outs and be productive."
Wheeler whiffed McConnell in the seventh and got an inning-ending double play from Jimmy Van Ostrand to end his night.
The three double plays were huge on a night in which Wheeler said he wasn't his sharpest.
"I didn't have my best stuff today, but when you get your double plays and ground balls, you feel a little better out there ... feel a little more confident," he said. "When your pitches aren't working well, any ground ball is helpful, and it worked out."
Marte doubled home Matt Den Dekker in the first for a 1-0 lead and the Mets added two more in the fourth on RBI singles by Juan Lagares and Sandoval. Joe Bonfe added a run-scoring single in the seventh.