Rafael Montero pitched a career-best 8 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and four walks as the Mets beat the Reds, 2-0, in Cincinnati on Wednesday night.
"The changeup was working really well, so I was using that a lot," Montero told reporters after the game. "I spent a good portion of time last year in the Dominican working on it and it finally came to be a pitch I can rely on now."
Montero (3-9 with a 5.12 ERA/4.21 FIP, and 1.67 WHIP), who threw 75 strikes out of a career-high 117 pitches, only allowed one hit -- a Joey Votto double in the fourth inning -- until the Reds collected two hits in the ninth inning.
AJ Ramos fanned the final two hitters to preserve Montero's third win of the year.
"I thought tonight he was in complete control and really confident with his stuff, kept the ball down when he needed to," manager Terry Collins later said. "He was just really, really good. ... This is a place that if you get the ball in the air, you're going to be in trouble. And that's why I say he kept the ball on the ground and he got some strikeouts. Outside of a couple of base on balls, he was the guy in charge tonight."
The 26-year-old Montero began the year with a 9.45 ERA in April, but has turned things around during his last four starts, putting together a 2.10 ERA since early-May. Overall this year, he has a 5.12 ERA in 28 appearances (13 starts).
"I think he really thinks he's got a home in the rotation, and he should think that -- he's pitched as good as anybody," Collins said. "It's all to his credit," Collins said. "The last time we sent him down we said look, 'You've got to throw strikes or you can't pitch here anymore. And he went down and did it, so you've got to give him the credit."
Matthew Cerrone (Twitter | Instagram | About Me): I'm not buying Montero... at least not yet. I'm glad he's feeling confident, especially when throwing his change up. It's hard to deny that he's been better during his last five appearances, during which he has a 2.77 ERA in 26 innings, during which 105 batters have hit just .253 against him -- all while having a .353 batting average on balls in play.
Nevertheless, despite last night's terrific outing, and the better stuff of late, he's still only had two -- maybe three -- good starts the entire year. Otherwise, he's been hit hard and often, be it pitching in the rotation or out of the bullpen.
It doesn't matter who is catching, where they're playing, day, night, rain or shine, he got hit and hit hard. Even with his recent uptick, he's consistently produced an ERA over 4.00 during most 30-day spans. He has an ERA over 5.50 pitching in relief or as a starter. Righties and lefties are both hitting .300 against him. He has struggled with or without run support. It doesn't matter if he's ahead or behind in the count, because in both situations opponents hit nearly .300 against him. Frankly, had it not been for three strong appearances in June, even with his perfroance the last few weeks, his stat line would be a total disaster.
Yet, here he is, starting in August and coming up with an amazing performance.
So, what is he? Unrealized potential on the verge of figuring it out? Or, just lucky on a a few random nights? I see him as a kid that has the potential for impeccable control, but who consistently can't find it. When he does, he's terrific. When he doesn't, he's a batting tee. This is true for most people.
However, in Montero's case, unless he's facing Triple-A batters, he seems unable to fool quality, big-league hitters -- at least enough to make up for the fact that he lacks command more nights than not. And, on a team trying to make the postseason (as they will be in 2018), when facing other teams contending for the postseason, I'm not convinced he should be in the game.
Thankfully for Montero, he's still a zero-to-three player next season. So, he'll likely be back in the organization next year, during which he'll get another chance to prove himself in spring training and again in Las Vegas... at least until some one is injured and the big-league team becomes desperate for a temporary fill-in guy.
That said, it also means next year will almost certainly be his final chance to get his career on track. Otherwise, if he struggles again next season -- when he'll be 28 years old and in his eighth professional season -- he can expect to be non-tendered at the end of the year.