When Zack Wheeler put the first two batters on in the second inning, he dialed it up with three strikeouts. When he saw how his pitch count was a bit high, he threw more to contact.
Either way, everything is starting to work for the rising star.
Wheeler struck out 10 in a gritty performance, Eric Campbell hit a three-run homer and the New York Mets beat the free-swinging Chicago Cubs 3-2 Friday night.
"When he gets you in certain situations, those guys, they don't know what's coming," said manager Terry Collins, complimenting Wheeler's assortment of pitches. "They just can't sit on one pitch."
Wheeler (8-8) threw a career-high 120 pitches in 6 2-3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits. He walked four and hit a batter but overpowered the Cubs in winning his fifth consecutive decision.
"The big thing is trying to keep my pitch count down and I really haven't been able to do that," Wheeler said when talking about going deeper in games.
The Cubs entered having struck out 77 times in their previous seven games, including 16 on Thursday in a loss to Milwaukee. Five of their first six outs Friday came by the K, and they fanned 14 times overall.
Pitching with a hernia, Jenrry Mejia fanned one in a perfect ninth for his 18th save.
"We have been facing some pretty good pitching. This guy today was pretty good, too," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "When you face arms like that, it happens. I thought we had a lot of really strong at-bats in terms of driving his pitch count up."
Travis Wood (7-10) gave up three runs and four hits in 5 1-3 innings to drop to 0-5 in his last 11 starts.
The Mets rebounded from a dreadful three-game sweep at the hands of the NL East-leading Washington Nationals to beat the Central's last-place Cubs for just the first time in four meetings between the teams this season. Chicago swept three games at Wrigley Field in June.
"We need to start playing better, there's no doubt about it," Campbell said.
The Cubs took a 2-0 lead in the third — the one inning Wheeler did not record a K — behind Anthony Rizzo's run-scoring groundout and Starlin Castro's RBI single.
Campbell hit the second homer of his career an out after Wood walked David Wright and Lucas Duda.
"Walks killed me," Wood said.
Cubs: Luis Valbuena is being held out of the starting lineup Friday and Saturday. Renteria thinks the scuffling infielder needs a break. Valbuena also has a cold. He grounded out as a pinch-hitter to end the game to fall to 1 for 30.
Mets: Right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka (elbow inflammation) will make a rehabilitation start for Double-A Binghamton on Saturday. Collins says he is not sure where Matsuzaka will fit when he returns.
Cubs: Right-hander Dan Straily, obtained in the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija to Oakland on July 5, will make his Cubs debut. Renteria said Straily is being called up from Triple-A Iowa to give the rest of the rotation an extra days' rest. The team is in a stretch of having a game on 20 straight days. OF Junior Lake is being sent to Iowa.
Mets: Jonathon Niese (6-8) is 2-4 with a 5.26 ERA against the Cubs. Castro is 5 for 16 (.313) with a homer and five RBIs against the left-hander
Some Mets fans recently have called for their beleaguered team to make a deal with the shortstop-rich Cubs for Castro. If Castro, who is signed with Chicago through 2019, has his say, he'll stay right where he is. "I know a lot of teams could have me and want me, but I'm here and I don't want to leave here," Castro said.
THAT DIDN'T WORK
When Juan Lagares hit a one-out fly to right field in the sixth, Campbell took off running. Collins said he was given a steal sign, but Campbell was at third base before he turned back. Ryan Sweeney made an easy throw into the infield for the double play. Rizzo, the first baseman, dropped the ball and catcher Wellington Castillo had to pick it up and step on the base for a rare 9-3-2 double play.
The Mets gave OF Chris Young his unconditional release. Young, who is making $7.25 million this year, was designated for assignment last week after hitting .205 with eight homers and 28 RBIs in 254 at-bats.