Tim Lincecum, meet Little Lincecum.
That was Zack Wheeler's nickname after the Giants selected him sixth overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, thanks mostly to the herky-jerky windup that he has since abandoned. Wheeler will face the real Lincecum in Sunday's series finale at AT&T Park.
The two pitchers go into the game riding different extremes. Wheeler, whom the Mets acquired for Carlos Beltran in a 2011 Trade Deadline deal, has delivered three consecutive strong starts. Though he is just 1-1 in those outings, he has a 1.37 ERA, 23 strikeouts and three walks over that span.
He traces that run of success back to a loss in Washington on May 18, when he felt that Nationals hitters were too easily able to predict what was coming. Since that time he has worked hard to mix up his repertoire, not always leaning on fastballs in fastball counts.
"I think it's a combination of just keeping the guys off balance, not being too predictable, and also locating," Wheeler said. "I've been trying to get ahead of guys a lot more, and it's a lot easier to pitch when you're doing that."
The Giants never wanted to part with Wheeler, and they may have gotten the worst of the deal. Beltran struggled with injuries as a Giant and left for St. Louis as a free agent after the 2011 season, whereas Wheeler is improving on a weekly basis.
Wheeler faced his former employer twice last season, dominating the Giants over seven innings of one-run ball in his fifth Major League start. The Giants fared better against him on Sept. 17 at Citi Field, coaxing four runs off him in five innings. The rookie received a no-decision in that outing, but the Mets won, 8-5.
Although there's little doubt that Wheeler's career is ascending, Lincecum's remains a work in progress. The right-hander continues to adjust to pitching without the blistering fastball that helped him win two National League Cy Young Awards, alternating promising outings with subpar ones.
"It is frustrating, because you want to look for something where you put everything together," said Lincecum, who matched a career worst by allowing eight runs in his most recent outing, at Cincinnati. "I haven't really been doing that any time this year. It's been things here and things there. I'm trying to find a way to get to that. Maybe it will be my 13th start."
Mets: Tejada among leadoff candidates
Since Juan Lagares went on the disabled list last week, the Mets have platooned left-handed outfielder Matt den Dekker and righty Chris Young at the leadoff spot. Manager Terry Collins may not necessarily tinker with that, but if he does, the hot hitting of shortstop Ruben Tejada has earned him some consideration.
Tejada, who has led off for the Mets in the past, entered Saturday's play with a .317/.431/.467 slash line since the Mets recalled fellow shortstop Wilmer Flores from Triple-A Las Vegas on May 9. Among regular players, Tejada leads the team in all three categories over that span.
But although Collins would like to have that sort of production atop his lineup, he is hesitant to move Tejada out of his apparent comfort zone batting lower in the order.
Giants: Posey as clutch as they come
Buster Posey's go-ahead home run in the eighth inning on Friday was his second such homer this season, furthering his reputation as one of the most clutch players in baseball.
Collins called Posey "a force to be reckoned with," noting he "has made a career out of getting big hits." So Collins will not be disappointed if the Giants hold Posey out of the lineup on Sunday, in a day game after a night game. Posey is unlikely to catch Lincecum, though he could play first base.
Then again, perhaps the Mets have figured out how to solve Posey. Saturday starter Bartolo Colon coaxed a double-play grounder out of him with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth inning, a key moment in the game.
• Collins has penciled in third baseman David Wright for his first off-day of the season on Sunday. Wright has started all 62 of the Mets' games so far; an off-day, combined with Monday's travel day, would give him more than two full days of rest.
• The Giants are the first team in the Majors to win 40 games this season, the first time they accomplished that feat since 1973. That season they had 25 losses at the time of their 40th win; this season they had just 21.
• Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson has reached base safely in 20 consecutive games, the second-longest active streak in the Majors. It is the sixth-longest such streak of Granderson's career.