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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Matt Harvey and Everybody Else

Zack Wheeler will be 24 years old on May 30. This is easy to forget, but we’d do well to remember it. He’s a work in progress.

Wheeler lost today against the Nationals, victimized by Wilson Ramos, dimwitted baserunning by his teammates, Ian Desmond and his own command. There’s no particular shame in falling prey to Ramos — when he sees a pitcher wearing blue and orange, Ramos is transformed from journeyman catcher to Mike Piazza channeling Rico Carty, Freddie Freeman and Greg Dobbs. The misadventures of Daniel Murphy and Juan Centeno are obviously their own problems. And Desmond smashed a long home run off a Wheeler slider that didn’t slide, which brings up the issue of command.

Wheeler’s pitches haven’t gone where he’s wanted them to in three of his last four starts — a debacle against the Rockies, a mess against the Yankees and now what happened vs. the Nats. What’s wrong? To my admittedly civilian eye, it looks mechanical and not mental.

Wheeler’s not exactly electric in postgame interviews, but it’s a fannish mistake to dismiss a laid-back Southern pitcher who fails to breathe fire after a loss as missing the Will to Win. Are there Mets pitchers who have lacked that ineffable quality? Sure. Mike Pelfrey‘s lack of focus and general weirdness was a huge problem for him, and Jonathon Niese’s conspicuous lack of interest in his craft drives me crazy. But I don’t see evidence of that in Wheeler. Rather, what I see is a failure to repeat his motion and stick to his release point, which leads to imprecise location, which leads to glum glances at balls heading for another ZIP code and kicking at the dirt. (Talk that Wheeler’s been tipping his pitches sounds like another manifestation of the same problem.) Nothing against Gary and Keith, but I really wanted Ron around for today’s broadcast to talk mechanics.

Wheeler has another problem that isn’t his fault: He isn’t Matt Harvey.

Harvey followed an intriguing half-season with a dominant sophomore campaign, and when Wheeler seemed to follow the same script (complete with a delayed debut because of service-time considerations), I think we decided his 2014 would be like Harvey’s 2013, though hopefully without Tommy John surgery. But not every pitcher is Matt Harvey, sprung like some pitching Athena out of the head of Tom Seaver. Most 23-year-olds still have things to learn, and there’s no shame in that.

Plus watching Wheeler get into trouble and fail to extricate himself from it, I found myself thinking how extraordinarily hard pitching is.

First you need superhuman DNA — the ability to throw a baseball at extraordinary speed, ideally with natural movement, and to command one, two or ideally three other pitches well enough to get the best hitters on the planet out consistently. There’s no question Wheeler passes this test– his arsenal is scary good.

Next you need consistent mechanics — the ability to do something physically and mentally difficult again and again and again, even if you’re exhausted and 40,000 people are screaming and a game, season or your own career might depend on how you execute. Wheeler’s still working on this, though every pitcher struggles with it at times.

Finally you need the intangible part — a good memory for batters’ tendencies and tells, the ability to adjust and improvise from inning to inning and at-bat to at-bat, and a ferocious desire to compete and win. (A good catcher helps, of course.) Does Wheeler have that? We should let him master the mechanical part before we make judgments.

Oh, and of course even if you can do all these things, pitching does awful things to your elbow and shoulder. It’s painful and profoundly unnatural — every pitcher knows his elbow is a ticking bomb, and this next pitch might leave him with a horrible feeling that something inside has tightened or popped, which at best means a year of rehab and at worst means everything you’ve worked for is gone.

Zack Wheeler’s 23 and still learning to do something incredibly hard. Rather than sigh that he isn’t Matt Harvey, let’s give him time to become Zack Wheeler.

8 comments to Matt Harvey and Everybody Else

  • Dave

    And in anticipation of the same hype and expectations for the same super-two schedule, let’s remember that we’re going to have to do the same for Noah Syndergaard.

    Wheeler might be a #3 or 4 starter when all is said and done, but every team needs one of those too.

  • open the gates

    I don’t know that I was expecting Zack Wheeler to be another Matt Harvey. I was thinking more of Wheeler being a possible Ron Darling to Harvey’s Doc Gooden, or Kooz to Harvey’s Seaver.

    Zack’s got a ways to go in that regard as well.

    Come to think of it, so does Harvey.

  • open the gates

    BTW, way off topic (sorry),but am I the only one who noticed that the current host of Mets Extra (I disremember the name), after interviewing Matt Williams on air before the game, actually said to him, “Good luck beating the Mets today”?

    Forget Juan Lagares. Let’s start a Free Ed Coleman hashtag campaign.

  • dmg

    i’m concerned we’ll hear any day now that wheeler is going on the dl, on his way to tj surgery.

  • BornAMet

    Let’s be honest – Wheeler gave up 3 earned runs yesterday. Ruben Tejada failed to end an inning that would’ve kept the game tied. For some reason, Tejada is still our starting shortstop, even though Wilmer Flores was supposed to be in that spot. Tejada has delivered for us maybe thrice offensively all season. It’s time to put Flores in and maybe Wheeler wouldn’t have been given a loss on 3 earned runs in 6 innings.

  • Lenny65

    Thank YOU! I’ve ALREADY heard fans who think dealing Wheeler would be a great idea, even though it’s exactly the kind of rash stupid move that would come back to haunt us in two years when Wheeler is 16-4 with a 2.42 ERA with the Dodgers or whoever. Give him time.

  • […] way it goes for most young pitchers. Wheeler just turned 24, and he’s still working on the mechanics, memory and mentality of being a consistent winner, any of which can desert a young hurler on a given night. Pitching is […]