In what may have been his final Double-A start, Zack Wheeler recorded a season-high 11 strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings for his 10th win Tuesday as Binghamton held on to beat Harrisburg, 3-2.
The Mets' top pitching prospect fell one shy of his career high in strikeouts while holding the Senators to a pair of runs on four hits and four walks. In winning for the first time since July 14, he combined with the B-Mets' bullpen, anchored by rehabbing closer Frank Francisco, for a season-high 17 strikeouts.
"It was good/ I felt comfortable with the bullpen coming in behind me," Wheeler said. "We had two guys, C.J. [Nitkowski] -- he came in right behind me, got a quick out -- and [Frank] Francisco, I think struck out the side. So that's always good to see him do well. It was a lot of fun."
The start comes in the wake of a report that Wheeler will be promoted to Triple-A Buffalo and make his International League on Sunday.
Wheeler wasn't tipping his hand on the Mets' plans. In fact, he said he didn't know if the reports were accurate.
"No, not really," he said when asked if the rumors affect him. "If it happens, it's a good thing. You gotta stay down here and concentrate on what you're doing, just give your team a chance to win."
Whether Wheeler reaches Buffalo or New York is up to the Mets, a team that reaped instant rewards by promoting fellow top prospect Matt Harvey. For Wheeler, acquired at last year's Trade Deadline from from the Giants, the season has been a learning experience.
"Coming into the season, I was doing my bullpens, working on my off-speed pitches for command, and that's helped me out a lot this year," he said. "It allowed me to get a little deeper in the games. I've been coming after guys. They're more aggressive hitters at this level, so I'm trying to be aggressive coming into the year, being able to throw off-speed pitches for strikes."
On Tuesday, Wheeler fanned his first two batters, got a double play after allowing a sacrifice fly in the second and struck out two more in the third around a pair of walks.
"I didn't know I had that many [strikeouts early]," he said. "I felt good, I was getting my off-speed pitches over to set them up later up in the count."
Tim Pahuta tagged Wheeler for a one-out homer in the fourth, but the 22-year-old right-hander bounced back and struck out the side in the sixth and fanned the only two batters he faced in the seventh.
"He's a big power guy," Wheeler said of Pahuta. "I threw a good pitch, a fastball away, and that's where he ran into it. It was a line drive over the left-field wall. The pitch could have been down, but it was right over the outside corner."
Nitkowski relieved Wheeler and retired Jonathan Tucker on an inning-ending popup. Francisco struck out the side in the eighth.
Wheeler said he felt strong in the seventh after throwing 106 pitches but knew his night was likely over after a particularly lengthy at-bat.
"I was feeling good and then I knew going into my last inning, my count was kinda high, so I had to make it a productive inning, pitch-count wise," he said. "[Jose Lozada] fouled off a ton of balls, that cost me the last batter."
Wheeler got a lead to work with in the first when No. 19 prospect Jefry Marte doubled home No. 6 prospect Wilmer Flores with two outs. Marte singled and scored in the fourth and Flores came home again on an error after drawing a walk in the sixth.
Wheeler set a career high with 12 strikeouts on May 29, 2011 while with Class A Advanced San Jose in the Giants system. He said the curveball was his strikeout pitch Tuesday.
"Probably the curveball and fastball," he added. "Me and my catcher (Francisco Pena) were mixing it up pretty well tonight. I'm getting off-speed pitches over for strikes, just setting them up."