Zack Wheeler came into his latest start with little to show for his previous four. But with a little run support for the first time this season, he finally earned his first Eastern League victory.
The Mets' top prospect allowed a run on two hits and three walks while striking out six over 5 2/3 innings Sunday as Binghamton shut down the Erie SeaWolves, 7-1.
"It was great, man," said Wheeler. "It took a little bit, but my offense helped me out today and my defense got behind me.
"Obviously, this was not my best start, but I was excited with my off-speed stuff. My changeup was the best it has ever been."
Wheeler (1-2) lowered his ERA to 1.75, which ranks fifth in the Double-A circuit. Despite pitching well over the first three weeks of the season, he found himself as the only member of the B-Mets' rotation without a win.
MLB.com's No. 28 overall prospect had allowed only four runs over his previous 20 innings -- one run or fewer in each of his last three starts. But Binghamton had scored only four times when Wheeler was on the mound.
Benefiting from a mechanical tweak and improved offensive output, the fortunes of the Georgia native changed Sunday at Jerry Uht Park.
"I've been working hard with pitching coordinator Ron Romanick and he showed me a new grip for my changeup, kinda like a split-finger," Wheeler said.
"The ball was trailing off, so it was hard to throw strikes. But he told me to make one minor adjustment so that my fingers were on top of the ball instead of just on the side. When my fingers were on the side, the ball tailed to my arm side, but I wanted it straighter."
Binghamton plated two runs in each of the first two innings, added one in the fourth and two more in the fifth. The support proved more than enough for Wheeler, who came to the Mets last July in the deal that sent Carlos Beltran to the Giants.
The 21-year-old right-hander faced one batter over the minimum through three innings before working into and out of trouble in the fourth. Brandon Douglas drew a leadoff walk and Rob Brantly singled to right field. Jordan Lennerton's groundout put two men in scoring position for the SeaWolves, but Wheeler fanned the next two batters to end the threat.
"It definitely gives you more confidence because you can pound the zone a little bit more and not worry about being too fine," Wheeler said about pitching with the lead. "You're not always on your toes. You're more comfortable and it allows you to relax.
"Of course, you want to win every game, but even if you go out and do your best you will not always end up with a win."
After a 1-2-3 fifth, he gave up a one-out double to Douglas in the sixth before retiring Brantly. Reliever Jeff Kaplan lost the shutout bid when he yielded Lennerton's double off the left-center field fence.
"I hate giving up runs, I think every pitcher does," Wheeler added. "I had a 95-pitch pitch count and I think I had 12 left going into the inning, and the first guy fouled off a good lot of them. The next guy up after I came out, Lennerton, I had his number and wanted to stay in, but I had to turn it over to the bullpen."
Reese Havens, the Mets' No. 7 prospect, went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer in his season debut and Matt Den Dekker (No. 16) tripled, doubled, drove in two runs and scored twice.
Erie starter Mark Sorensen (0-2) was reached for four runs on six hits and four walks over two innings.