Trade target Wheeler brings heat as Mets beat Bucs 6-3
NEW YORK (AP) — After missing 2 1/2 weeks with a shoulder issue, Zack Wheeler felt some relief when leadoff hitter Corey Dickerson swung through his 98 mph fastball Friday night.
No doubt, the Mets right-hander did his part heating up the hot stove ahead of next week’s trade deadline.
Wheeler, among the major leagues’ most likely players to be dealt, showed off a live arm in his return from the injured list, and New York hit four homers to beat the slumping Pittsburgh Pirates 6-3.
Wheeler (7-6) struck out seven over 5 1/3 innings in his first start since July 7 due to right shoulder fatigue — an issue he called an impingement. With contending teams watching closely, the right-hander averaged 96.8 mph on his fastball and looked sharp until Adam Frazier clocked a two-run homer in the sixth inning. Wheeler allowed three runs, six hits and no walks.
“I thought he threw the ball great,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “He held his stuff, and he said he felt outstanding when he came out.”
Jeff McNeil hit a three-run homer, and Todd Frazier, Pete Alonso and Wilson Ramos added solo shots for the Mets. Alonso’s homer was his 34th.
Pirates rookie starter Dario Agrazal (2-1) got roughed up for the first time in his short big league career, and Pittsburgh dropped its sixth straight. The Pirates are 2-13 since the All-Star break and have allowed 12 homers over their past three games.
“We’ve had some challenges keeping the ball in the ballpark,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s been a rough stretch from that standpoint.”
With Mets closer Edwin Díaz nursing a sore left big toe a day after being hit by a line drive, Seth Lugo pitched the ninth for his first save of the year.
Wheeler, who can become a free agent after the season, expects to be dealt prior to the July 31 deadline and even has his bags packed at home. Callaway acknowledged that Wheeler faced a “difficult task” tuning out the trade talk, but he expected the 29-year-old to lock in for game time.
He looked sharp early but allowed a run in the second on two soft singles and Colin Moran’s one-hopper that skipped off shortstop Amed Rosario’s glove for an RBI infield single.
Wheeler retired 12 straight before running into trouble in the sixth. Melky Cabrera led off with a single, and Adam Frazier drove a two-run shot to cut New York’s lead to 4-3. Wheeler got an out and allowed a single to Josh Bell before being pulled after 73 pitches.
Mets fans near the home dugout gave Wheeler a standing ovation as he walked off.
Wheeler has experience with the deadline drama. Sunday will mark eight years since he was acquired from the San Francisco Giants for veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran.
“You just try to stay locked in,” Wheeler said. “I’ve been through it before. It’s just noise at this point. You just have to stay locked in. If you don’t, you’re going to go out there and do crappy.”
McNeil and Ramos each hit their 10th homers. Todd Frazier clubbed his 14th a day after ending a 1-for-18 skid with two hits.
Agrazal was pulled after allowing Alonso’s one-out homer in the sixth. He gave up five runs on three homers, and his ERA rose from 2.25 to 3.24 in his sixth career start.
“I went out there with the same mentality, same game plan, same preparation,” he said through a translator. “Sometimes, it’s just baseball. They have the bat as well.”
McNeil video chatted with his wife, Tatiana, pregame to ask her permission to bring home a rescued puppy brought to the ballpark by the North Shore Animal League. McNeil said the couple planned to visit with the puppy Saturday before making a decision.
“I think hitting a home run after holding a puppy, I think that gives me a little bargaining chip,” McNeil said.
Pirates: Dickerson was pulled in the third with left groin discomfort. Hurdle said Dickerson felt the discomfort making a defensive play in the second inning.
Mets: Callaway opted to give Díaz a night off to heal his big toe, although Díaz said he was feeling well and declared himself ready to pitch. X-rays were negative, and Díaz threw from 90 feet before the game without issue. ... RHP Walker Lockett was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse to make space for Wheeler.
Mets LHP Steven Matz (5-6, 4.75 ERA) makes his third start since a brief stint in the bullpen. He pitched six innings of two-run ball against San Francisco in his previous outing. The Pirates will send out RHP Trevor Williams (3-3, 4.96).
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