Zack Wheeler took the high road, opting not to rub in his strong outing against his former team.
He didn’t have to. His pitching spoke loudly enough.
“I’m not trying to prove anybody wrong,” the former Mets right-hander said over Zoom after pitching the Phillies to a series sweep of the Mets Sunday in Philadelphia, tossing seven strong innings in a 6-2 victory.
He was referring to a question, asking if he proved anything to the person, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who didn’t think he was worth the five-year, $118 million deal the Phillies signed him to in the offseason.
Early on, Wheeler looks worth it. In four starts, he has a 2.81 ERA, while the pitchers brought in to replace him, Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello, have either struggled or gotten hurt. With Noah Syndergaard undergoing Tommy John surgery and Marcus Stroman opting out of the season because of COVID-19 concerns, the Mets rotation has become their greatest weakness. That was amplified on Sunday as the 30-year-old Wheeler shut them down, striking out four, walking one and allowing six hits.
“I thought he was great,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said.
Porcello, now sporting a hefty 5.76 ERA, opposed Wheeler on Sunday, and was tagged for three runs in the sixth inning, turning a precarious one-run Mets lead into a two-run deficit. Wheeler made sure it stood up, retiring the Mets in order in the seventh and yielding only a two-run Luis Guillorme opposite-field single in an impressive outing.
“My adrenaline was going when I was there, I got excited,” Wheeler said. “But once you get out there, you have to settle those nerves and just remember it’s another game, even though you know those guys out there. You’re facing your old team. You want to go out there and do well. There’s no way around it.”
In his time with the Mets, Wheeler routinely struggled keeping his pitch-count down and getting deep into games. So far with the Phillies, though, he’s gone at least six innings three times and they’re 3-1 when he toes the rubber. He’s pitching to contact more, striking out less hitters — 12 in four starts — but lasting longer.
“That’s always what I wanted to do,” he said.
After Wheeler signed with the Phillies in December, there was a back-and-forth between him and Van Wagenen. The Mets general manager started it, saying, “The contract and the market that he enjoyed was beyond what our appetite level was. I said that before. He got paid more than we were willing to give him.”
Wheeler responded by saying that comment “may help me out a little bit.’’ In February, Wheeler told The Post he gave the Mets a chance to retain him before signing with the Phillies, but all he heard was “basically just crickets.”
It didn’t surprise him.
“Because it’s them,” he said then. “It’s how they roll.”
A day later, Van Wagenen congratulated Wheeler on the contract he received and said he was thrilled with the pitching staff he had assembled with the Mets. Six months later, the Mets general manager can’t possibly feel the same way, given the sorry state of his starting rotation.