After an impressive big league debut last week, Zack Wheeler surely has New York Mets looking forward to his encore performance.
The visiting Mets send Wheeler to the mound opposite the Chicago White Sox's Chris Sale, who tries to snap a career-worst four-start losing streak Tuesday night.
Considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, Wheeler (1-0, 0.00 ERA) lived up to the hype in the back end of last Tuesday's doubleheader at Atlanta. After watching Matt Harvey strike out 13 while winning the first game, Wheeler scattered four hits and fanned seven over six scoreless innings in a 6-1 victory.
"I hope people saw this," manager Terry Collins said of Harvey and Wheeler. "Certainly they're going to enjoy watching these two guys for a long time. They're going to be around. ... You got two guys that can win some baseball games for you."
It wasn't all smooth sailing for the 23-year-old Wheeler, who issued five walks. The right-hander threw just 55 of his 102 pitches for strikes.
"I had some jitters going at first," he said. "I settled down a little bit, probably the fourth or fifth inning I think it was, found a rhythm, settled down, and I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes."
Another solid outing from Wheeler could put even more pressure on Sale (5-6, 2.69), whose run support average of 2.69 is the lowest in the majors. Chicago (31-42), last in the AL with 272 runs, backed Sale with a combined five in his last four starts and he lost them all. The left-hander had never previously lost more than two straight decisions.
"It's tough, even for (Sale)," manager Robin Ventura told MLB's official website. "You feel like you have to throw up a one or two to be able to survive in that. That's not good for any pitcher to go out there and think that they have to do that."
Sale had his own problems Wednesday, though, allowing four runs and eight hits in five innings in a 7-4 defeat at Minnesota.
"I didn't have good command," said Sale, who had a 1.18 ERA in his previous five starts. "I was coming out of myself. I just kind of need to gather myself and get the flow again and regroup next time out."
Sale is making his first appearance against the Mets (30-42), who enter this two-game set having won six of nine. They were off Monday after an 8-0 victory at Philadelphia on Sunday, when Harvey threw six strong innings and David Wright went 4 for 5 with a homer, a triple and two doubles.
Wright is batting .405 with 14 extra-base hits in his last 17 games, including 9 for 19 with three homers and five RBIs over the past four.
"This guy is tired, beat up, yet he rides it when you need him," Collins said. "I've been around stars, and this guy's as good as any of them."
While Wright is a career .322 hitter in interleague play, he went 0 for 5 with three walks as the Mets split a two-game home series with Chicago from May 7-8.
The White Sox return home following a 3-7 road trip. Chicago appeared headed for a three-game sweep of Kansas City before Jesse Crain allowed three unearned runs in the eighth inning of Sunday's 7-6 loss.
"It's a tough way to lose a game," said Crain, who had made a franchise-record 29 consecutive scoreless appearances. "We had a chance to sweep the series, which we needed. We just have to look forward to the next game."
While Adam Dunn has hit .340 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in his last 14 games, Paul Konerko is batting .407 with a homer and five RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak.
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