CLEVELAND -- The Mets view Zack Wheeler as a significant part of the organization's future. Once upon a time, they held Scott Kazmir in a similarly high regard.
On Friday night at Progressive Field, Wheeler and the Mets went up against Kazmir, an old friend whom New York selected in the first round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft and dealt to Tampa Bay two years later. Kazmir and the Indians easily got the better of the matchup, with the Mets dropping the series opener in Cleveland, 8-1.
The final score is not indicative of Wheeler's outing. Despite not having his best control, the rookie held the Indians to three runs -- two earned -- in five innings. He also allowed five hits, issued five walks and recorded three strikeouts.
"He had to fight through a lot of innings," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "That's why I took him out. He had to work very, very hard the whole game to keep us in the game, and he did that."
Wheeler's walk total equaled his high for the season. Before Friday, he issued five free passes on Aug. 4 against the Royals and June 18 in Atlanta, his debut outing.
Collins did not view Wheeler's performance in Cleveland as a step back.
"That hasn't been him," Collins said. "That's very uncharacteristic with the way he's been pitching, because one thing that we've talked about in the last month is that he's [pounding] the strike zone. Tonight, he was missing."
After Wheeler's exit, the Indians scored a run off Gonzalez Germen in the sixth and four more that were charged to David Aardsma and Tim Byrdak in the eighth, which featured a grand slam from Nick Swisher. New York's lone run came via a homer from Justin Turner off reliever Cody Allen in the seventh.
While the mistakes of the back end of the Mets' bullpen were huge, Wheeler's were not. He began the game by loading the bases but limited the damage to one run by getting a fly ball, a strikeout and a popup in foul territory. The first out, a drive off the bat of Carlos Santana, was deep enough for the runner to tag from third.
Wheeler's unearned run came in the second. With one out, he walked Lonnie Chisenhall and got a soft grounder to third from Drew Stubbs. In his hurry to get Stubbs at first, Mets third baseman Wilmer Flores let loose a wide throw that brought Lucas Duda off the bag. Soon after, Michael Bourn brought a run in with a sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the fifth, Santana added to his RBI total. With two outs and men on first and third, he lined a single up the middle, pushing New York's deficit to three runs.
"For the most part, it was just a bad job tonight, overall, from me," Wheeler said. "Not getting ahead of guys, and I was falling behind. They did a good job of moving runners and stuff."
Over the last few weeks, Wheeler's name has often found itself in sentences that also contained the word "fatigue." Wheeler didn't make any excuses for how he pitched in the loss.
"Like I said before, once you go out there, you aren't really tired," Wheeler said. "That really didn't have anything to do with tonight."
What was a problem for Wheeler on Friday was his delivery. He said he was flying open a bit, which caused his pitches to run. Regardless, at least one person in the Indians' dugout came away impressed.
"He's got great stuff, man. No doubt," Swisher said. "Good backdoor slider he was throwing. The fastball had some serious action on it. Man, it just kind of seems in general that over there on the Mets' side things are looking on the up and up. They've got him and [Matt] Harvey, who hurt his elbow. There seems like there's a lot of young guys over there who are going to be able to do a lot of great things."
Any mistake -- big or small -- would be glaring for a pitcher tasked with dueling Kazmir when the left-hander is pitching like he did against the Mets.
Kazmir struck out the side in the first, third and sixth innings, finishing with a season-high 12 punchouts. Across six scoreless innings, he did not issue a walk and surrendered just four hits.
"Three quality pitches," Collins said. "His changeup, gosh, it was outstanding, just outstanding tonight. Made pitches with his fastball. Used his cutter when he needed to. There were times he just overpowered us."
That was the manager's perspective. How about a player? Travis d'Arnaud, what was Kazmir doing to shut down the Mets on Friday?
"Just locating everything," the catcher said. "Being deceptive. He had all his pitches. He did really well tonight."
If the Mets had held onto Kazmir initially, it's unlikely they'd still have him today. He's dealt with all kinds of minor injuries and mechanical problems during the last few years, which ultimately resulted in his being out of Major League Baseball altogether a year ago.
He's back now, however, and the Mets learned he's still got plenty of ability. After his stellar start on Friday, the Mets will probably think about him more than he thinks about them.
"It's great, but I'm at the point where we're playing for a playoff spot right now," said Kazmir, who never got the chance to pitch in a Mets uniform. "That's the one thing that I'm thinking about when I'm going out to the mound. It's great that it was against the team that drafted me, but that definitely wasn't crossing through my mind when I was out there on the mound."
In all, the Mets struck out 15 times, one short of their season high during a nine-inning game this year. They have lost four of their past five games.
Wheeler's resilient effort provided a little something to be happy about in the latest defeat.
"He's pitching a lot better," Collins said. "I'll tell you, he's really gotten better, and that's why it's exciting to think, after experiencing what it's like to have a whole season up here, to think what you're going to have down the road. He learns, and he learns fast."
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.