Watching San Jose's first three games of the season from the dugout, former first-round pick Zack Wheeler took mental notes of flaws in opponents' swings. On Sunday, the Giants' top pitching prospect got to exploit those weaknesses.
Wheeler threw pitch after pitch hard and away, getting the same result each time, as he tossed five hitless innings in the San Jose Giants' 10-0 rout of the Lake Elsinore Storm.
The 20-year-old right-hander, who combined with three relievers on a three-hitter, walked three and struck out three, retiring 11 of the final 12 batters he faced before leaving with a 7-0 lead.
"We sort of had a game plan to stay away from the hitters and then occasionally bust them inside," Wheeler said. "They have had trouble hitting outside fastballs in the first three games, so it was all fastball again today. I think I maybe only threw two curveballs and one change."
Selected sixth overall in the 2009 Draft, Wheeler was pleased with the way his first Class A Advanced start unfolded. Despite the dominant outing, though, the perfectionist in him knows his performance wasn't without flaws.
"I had a little trouble getting ahead in the count and throwing strikes, but I battled well and got back into the at-bats," he said. "It is always nice when you are on the mound and you know that you have a solid defense behind you. There were a few hard hit ground balls today and it gives you confidence when you see guys behind you making plays in the hole."
Wheeler opened the game by walking Rico Noel, who stole two bases but was stranded at third. The Georgia native worked around a one-out walk in the second and retired the side in order in the third after being staked to a 2-0 lead.
The Giants tacked on a run in the fourth and Wheeler followed with a perfect frame. After San Jose plated four more runs in the fifth to make it 7-0, the Storm got their first baserunner since the second when Edinson Rincon drew a leadoff walk.
Wheeler, who went 3-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 21 appearances for Class A Augusta last year, got Jonathan Galvez to pop out, fanned Rymer Liriano for the second out. He finished his day by getting Dean Anna to ground out.
Jose Valdez pitched a scoreless sixth, but Rincon but broke up the no-hit bid in the seventh with a one-out single to center field off Jose Casilla. Casilla retired the next five batters and Heath Hembree completed the shutout, working around consecutive singles to open the ninth.
"You trust your teammates to come in behind you and do their jobs, and you leave it in their hands," Wheeler said. "I thought Valdez did a nice job and I saw Casilla's second inning and he looked good, too."
Wheeler, a Futures Game selection last summer, made eight starts for the GreenJackets in his first year of pro ball before moving to the bullpen in July. He allowed two runs over nine innings in eight appearances before returning to the rotation in August.
Former third-round pick Chris Dominguez homered twice and drove in three runs, while teenage catching prospect Tommy Joseph added a solo shot, providing more than enough support for Wheeler and the bullpen.