Making your big league debut is never an easy task. Pitching in the Subway Series against the Yankees is no cake walk either. Add in facing an early CY Young candidate in Masahiro Tanaka, and that’s what Met prospect Rafael Montero had to deal with Tuesday night in his first-career Major League start.
Montero always seems to have his name floating around in speculative trade rumors for guys like Nick Franklin or even Giancarlo Stanton. After seeing him pitch against the Bombers, I don’t think fans should want him in any rotation other than the one in Queens.
When I went down to Port St. Lucie this March, I was excited to see the young guns like Montero and Syndergaard take the rubber and show their stuff. I watched Montero pitch a few innings against the Cardinals and loved what I saw. He kind of reminded me of a Bartolo Colon-type pitcher, one that would predominantly rely on a low-to-mid-90s fastball and occasionally work in an off-speed pitch. His control was nearly impeccable, and he was able to spot his fastball to get outs.
In the not-so-friendly confines of the Pacific Coast League this season, Montero kept his ERA under 4.00, no small feat. But what stood out to me was that he walked 18 hitters in nearly 42 innings. During his 16 starts with Las Vegas last year, he walked just 25 in 88.2 innings. Some wanted to see the Mets wait until the possible Super-2 date to make the call for Montero, but I believe it was time for the righty to join the big club and make and impact in 2014. And after watching him last night, the move seems to be the right one.
Right off the bat in the first inning, Montero pounded the strike zone with a seemingly consistent 92-mph fastball. He had trouble putting hitters away with the punch outs, but he induced a lot of contact to get outs. Pitching against a team that had scored seven runs in each of the last two games against the Mets — albeit at the bandbox in the Bronx — he could have easily cracked under the pressure and coughed up a load of runs. But he didn’t.
What he did do was pitch six innings, allowing just five hits and three runs (two of them coming on solo homers) while striking out three hitters. The first run came of a defensive miscue by Eric Young, Jr., so I’ll give him a pass on that one. To me, some of the only negatives from the start were that he didn’t use his changeup and rarely used his slider. His fastball looked good, but the veteran Yankee lineup fouled off a ton of two-strike pitches, which drove his pitch count up early in the game.
But overall, there was a lot to like in Montero’s first start with the Mets. Unlike Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, he had to make his debut at home, in front of a pretty sizable crowd of both Met and Yankee fans. His first-career strikeout being Derek Jeter was pretty special as well. He did end up on the losing side, but with Tanaka dominating, it was a bit of hard luck. His first start in a tough situation was solid, and people should be expecting more of the same in his upcoming outings.