The conditions were balmy on Wednesday in New Britain, and it felt pleasantly familiar to Zack Wheeler.
"I felt great, I was loving the weather," said Wheeler. "It was like being back home in Georgia."
The Mets' top prospect loved it so much that he decided to stick around for a career-high eight innings. And after 97 pitches, he felt he had enough in the tank to go the route in Binghamton's 8-1 win.
"I used to be that guy who threw a lot of pitches," Wheeler said of his newfound efficiency. "But this year I've been going after guys, so it's a little easier when you get ahead."
Wheeler (4-2) threw 63 of those 97 pitches for strikes, fanning six and allowing two hits for his fourth win.
The unseasonably warm Northeast spring has eased some of Wheeler's fears on the southerner's first tour through a cold-weather circuit.
"To tell you the truth, I was a little worried going into the season about the coldness. But it was only a few starts when it was really really cold, and that's over," he said.
Without any cold gales to worry about, Wheeler took a no-hitter into the fifth inning before Nate Hanson singled with two outs and knocked in Twins' No. 2 prospect Aaron Hicks with the Rock Cats' lone run.
The 21-year-old right-hander, who has won his last four starts, worked at least seven innings for the second straight game while lowering his ERA to 1.97, which ranks sixth in the Eastern League. He leads the circuit with 51 strikeouts.
Ranked 25th overall among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects, Wheeler opened the game with back-to-back strikeouts and retired the first 10 batters before Chris Herrmann drew a one-out walk in the fourth. He got an inning-ending double play to escape that frame, but a walk, stolen base and single in the fifth led to New Britain's only run.
"My fastball was working; I located it pretty good today," said Wheeler. "My changeup, I threw a lot more of those today and it got better as the game went on."
Behind the emerging "split-finger" changeup, Wheeler recovered in the sixth with a pair of strikeouts before working a 1-2-3 seventh. Danny Lehmann's double in the eighth was the only other hit New Britain managed on the afternoon.
The addition of the changeup has made it easier for Wheeler to adapt when other pitches aren't working.
"My slider wasn't working very well today, so that's where my changeup came in to play. I threw a few curveballs for strikes early in counts to keep it in guys' heads," he said.
Binghamton gave Wheeler a lead in the second when Sean Kazmar hit a leadoff single and scored on a wild pitch by Rock Cats starter David Bromberg. The Mets tacked on three runs in the eighth on a fielder's choice and a pair of errors before Raul Reyes slugged a three-run homer in the ninth to blow it open. It was his third hit of the day.
Adrian Rosario pitched the ninth for Binghamton, striking out one, to complete the two-hitter.
Wheeler, who came to the Mets from the Giants in last July's trade for Carlos Beltran, has pitched at least five innings in seven of his eight starts this year. As for adjusting to the difficult test of the Eastern League, he's doing pretty well.
"It's about what I knew coming in, that the guys were a little bit older and more experienced and that they'd be patient waiting for their pitch," he said. "I think I've adapted well to it. I mean, I felt good and confident when I'm out."