Rafael Montero—a potential future phenom for the New York Mets. He can strike people out, he’s got plenty of control of his pitches. His stats on the season between Binghamton and Las Vegas are 150 strike outs to 35 BBs in 155.1 innings.
Over his last 7 starts for Las Vegas, Mets fans rejoiced that Montero has “figured out” the PCL and adjusted. His walks started to drop as his control came back, and his strikeouts increased. He, even more importantly, became a pitcher for the 51s who would give up 2 or less runs per game.
Also, it’s worth noting that even in the high-fly PCL, Montero only gave up 4 home runs over 88.2 innings pitched. Just to give you a benchmark to base that off of: our very own Zack Wheeler gave up 9 home runs over 68 innings in the PCL. So, while Montero may get hit, he doesn’t seem to get hit hard enough for even the Pacific Coast Leaguers to manufacture thin-air homers.
Which is why his start for the 51s last night against the Salt Lake Bees was a little out of character and more along the lines of how Montero performed against AAA hitters when he was first promoted. After being given a 1-0 lead, Montero surrendered 2 runs in the third inning. Then, the 51s rallied from behind as Rylan Sandoval drove in Ruben Tejada and Mike Baxter on single up the middle. Once again, the 51s had the lead, this time 3-2.
Montero began the 5th with a prompt, deep fly out to Nieuwenhuis. The next batter, Andy Marte, lifted a homer to tie the game and Montero was quickly yanked by Backman.
A stat line of 4.1 innings pitched, 5 hits, 3 runs (all earned), 3 walks, 2 strikeouts, and 1 home run at 82 pitches wasn’t uplifting, especially since Montero couldn’t hold the lead both times.
Quite clearly, he wasn’t pounding the strike zone with his best stuff last night. He surrendered 3 walks, which was more a characteristic of his starts of old with the 51s. While 5 hits isn’t awful, it doesn’t help his cause when he couples them with 3 free passes. He ran his pitch count up, he couldn’t stay in the strike zone, and Andy Marte made him pay. He doesn’t usually give up homers, so the fact that he did so early on, and in a game where he didn’t have his best control, it was better to pull him before it snowballed. It wasn’t like he was ripped around the ballpark though– no extra base hits allowed aside from that homer.
Obviously, I’m not trying to say Montero’s going to be a bust. I think he’ll be great, actually. He’s had numerous games for the 51s where he’s looked like an ace. But, this was a playoff game and this was playoff experience for him, and I hope he gets another chance to pitch during the 51s playoff run because I’d love to see if he can bounce back.
As it stands, however, being yanked before you can reach 5 innings never feels good, but he was putting up a pitch count that wouldn’t have allowed him to last much longer any way. He knows his biggest strength is to last as long as he can. Four of his five wins for the 51s came in his last 10 starts, his most dominant ones being the games he pitched 7+ innings and walked 2 or less.
It’ll be important to see how he does when he starts with the 51s next year, and how he carries that over as his promotion to the big leagues looms.
(photo credit: Gordon Donovan)