SAN FRANCISCO – Standing in a dim hallway outside the visiting clubhouse at AT&T Park on Monday, Zack Wheeler said he had never spent time pondering how his pitching debut in the Giants' stadium might have looked – a home uniform, adoration from the crowd, the hype that accompanies the arrival of a former first-round pick.
Instead, Wheeler, the right-hander the Giants drafted sixth overall in 2009 and traded to the New York Mets in 2011 for Carlos Beltran, is scheduled to start against his former organization tonight – and said now that he's here, he does plan on using the trade as motivation.
"Yeah, definitely," Wheeler, 23, said with a smile. "I definitely want to go out there and do well for myself, and maybe show them what they could've had, I guess."
Once seen by many as a future rotation member in San Francisco, Wheeler said he thinks he probably would be pitching for the Giants right now had he not been traded. Circumstances suggest he's right – with Ryan Vogelsong recovering from a fractured pinkie on his throwing hand, the Giants have already plugged into their rotation erstwhile reliever Chad Gaudin and left-hander Michael Kickham, who was drafted a year after Wheeler and before this season had not pitched above Double A.
Wheeler, named by Baseball America the 11th-best prospect in baseball before this season, began the year at Triple-A Las Vegas and made 13 starts there before the Mets called him up. He debuted June 18 with six shutout innings against the Atlanta Braves and is 2-1 with a 4.29 ERA in four New York starts.
Wheeler acknowledged landing with the Mets, who haven't had a winning season since 2008 or the same kind of rotation mainstays as the Giants, is likely a "better opportunity" to become a front-of-the-rotation starter faster. But he said he still hears from San Francisco fans who share their regrets, many via Twitter, that Wheeler isn't a Giant.
"Especially when I landed here (Sunday)," Wheeler said. "It blew up from Giants fans."
Wheeler was pitching for Class-A San Jose when the Giants sent him to the Mets on July 28, 2011, for Beltran, hoping for an offensive spark to fuel their quest for a repeat to the 2010 World Series title.
Beltran hit .323 in 44 games for the Giants, who had lost Buster Posey to a season-ending injury, but missed time himself because of a strained right hand as the Giants missed the playoffs altogether.
Manager Bruce Bochy reiterated Monday the Giants harbor no regrets about the trade. They made moves in both 2010 and 2012 that proved key to their title runs, bolstering the bullpen in 2010 with Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez and the lineup in 2012 with Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence. Bochy said the opportunity was there in 2011.
"Our pitching was doing such a great job," Bochy recalled. "We had trouble scoring runs, and we felt that if we could get there we could repeat. We were going into August sitting in a good position. We just needed a bat.
"And we got a great bat. Unfortunately, we lost him on the DL there, but he did all he could to help us. Just as a group, without Posey in the lineup, we didn't have enough offense in the lineup to do it."
Wheeler, meanwhile, called it an "honor" to be the player moved for Beltran, who is "probably going to be a Hall of Famer."
It ensured his first start at AT&T Park, where he had been just once before this week for a post-draft conditioning camp, would come as a visiting pitcher. But Wheeler said he has no resentment toward the Giants or general manager Brian Sabean.
"He got the result that he wanted – not the year I got traded obviously, but the next," Wheeler said. "And that's the game of baseball. You trade people away and try to make deals happen so you can win.
"No hard feelings or anything. It's probably going to happen again . Like I said, it's the game of baseball."