It took Zack Wheeler five starts to find his footing at Triple-A.
With his first win out of the way, the Mets' top prospect is looking forward to enjoying the final three weeks of the season and getting an early jump on preparations for 2013.
Wheeler tossed a three-hitter and struck out seven Sunday as Buffalo blanked visiting Rochester, 1-0, in the first game of a doubleheader.
"I've got one start left," Wheeler said. "We won't make the playoffs, but I'll try to build on this and stay confident.
"Assistant GM J.P. Ricciardi came down, and I asked him what I needed to do to take the next step. He said I needed to get my innings in here at Triple-A and learn the mental side."
MLB.com's No. 21 overall prospect issued two walks while matching a Triple-A career high in strikeouts. It was the second complete-game shutout of the season for Wheeler, who allowed six hits over nine innings for Double-A Binghamton in a 1-0 win over Erie on July 14.
"The reporters here asked me if it was a relief to get my first win here, but I told them it was just another game, just another level," said Wheeler (1-2).
"I had fastball command to both sides of the plate and I was getting my off-speed stuff over for strikes. My curveball was great and I could throw it as a strikeout pitch, and I could throw my slider for strikes. I only threw a couple changeups. They weren't Grade A, but they were there."
Wheeler retired the first eight batters without allowing the ball to leave the infield. Rene Rivera singled to left field with two outs in the third for Rochester's first hit, but Wheeler retired Tsuyoshi Nishioka on a popup.
Matt Carson doubled to right field leading off the fourth and was one of two Red Wings to get into scoring position. But he was caught stealing third base after Wheeler spun and caught him napping.
"He had a huge lead," Wheeler said. "I delivered the [previous] pitch and when I got the ball back, [second baseman] Josh Satin dropped his hand a little bit. I looked at him and we made eye contact. [Carson] didn't even try to get back to second base. It was pretty big because he had a leadoff double.
"I've picked two guys off second in the last two games. You rarely see people picked off second."
In the sixth, Carson laced a two-out double and Chris Parmelee walked to put the potential go-ahead run on base. But Wheeler set down the final four batters to complete the Bisons' seventh shutout of the season.
The outing lowered the 22-year-old's ERA to 3.54 in five International League starts. He allowed five runs on eight hits over five innings against Lehigh Valley on Aug. 16, then surrendered four runs -- three earned -- on four hits over 5 1/3 innings against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday.
"I've been trying new stuff mechanically and it's been messing me up," Wheeler admitted. "Those things with the hitches in my windup were in the back of my mind, like keeping my shoulders balanced and keeping the weight on my back leg instead of rushing out. I had to pitch like I knew how.
"There was so much stuff going on in my head. But tonight I wasn't going out there trying to do something different every inning. I was nice and fluid in my motion."
Acquired last July in the deal that sent All-Star outfielder Carlos Beltran to the Giants, Wheeler was 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA in 19 games with the B-Mets prior to his promotion.
Now that he's at Triple-A, Wheeler's focus has shifted to doing what he needs to do to make it to Citi Field.
"I've been asking [catcher] Mike Nickeas to ask me things like why I'm throwing certain pitches in certain counts," said Wheeler, who plans on throwing bullpen sessions with fellow Mets prospect Matt Harvey in December and January. "I've been picking his brain and it's been working out.
"He went to Georgia Tech and he's been in the big leagues, so he's seen a lot of different pitchers. He's helped me out with my responses, asking me why I shook him off or why I threw that pitch or what I was thinking."
The Bisons scored in the fourth as Adam Loewen drew a one-out walk, took third on a single by Josh Rodriguez and came home on a sacrifice fly by Mets' No. 14 prospect Matt den Dekker.