SAN FRANCISCO -- Rafael Montero's inevitable unraveling appeared to begin in the third inning of Sunday's 8-2 Mets win over the Giants. Following a strikeout to open the inning, Montero gave up a pair of hits, before walking Hunter Pence to load the bases.Up to the plate strode former National
SAN FRANCISCO -- Rafael Montero's inevitable unraveling appeared to begin in the third inning of Sunday's 8-2 Mets win over the Giants. Following a strikeout to open the inning, Montero gave up a pair of hits, before walking Hunter Pence to load the bases.
Up to the plate strode former National League MVP Buster Posey, creating the type of spot that had consumed Montero on so many past occasions. But this time was different. This time, Montero threw strikes, coaxing a relatively harmless sacrifice fly from Posey before catcher Rene Rivera caught Hunter Pence stealing to end the inning.
From there, Montero cruised, pitching 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball to win his first game in three years.
"I feel just a lot more confidence in my pitching," Montero said through an interpreter. "I think I threw well today."
Heading into the sunny afternoon at AT&T Park, the Mets had hoped Montero might be an improved pitcher. In five starts at hitter-happy Triple-A Las Vegas this season, he was dominant, striking out 37 batters in 29 innings with a 2.48 ERA. In his two most recent Major League mopup relief appearances, Montero threw 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball.
But in the past, such encouraging signs from Montero tended to evaporate immediately in high-leverage spots. Posting a 10.80 ERA in two starts this season, Montero forced the Mets to consider that the former blue-chip prospect might never make good on his promise. For a time, even Montero's status on the 40-man roster seemed in doubt.
Then Zack Wheeler landed on the disabled list with right biceps tendinitis, giving the Mets little choice but to call on Montero yet again.
This time, it worked.
Relying largely on his signature pitch, a tumbling changeup that he threw as hard as 90 mph, Montero generated 10 swings and misses -- eight of them on his changeup and slider. Against the NL's 29th-ranked offense, Montero struck out seven against two walks, capping his day with a popup double play of Posey in the sixth.
"That's exactly what we were hoping to see," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I hope this is what we're going to see from now on because his stuff's good enough. His stuff plays. He's got a good arm. I'm hoping that he's grown up now and knows how to use it."
The question now becomes when Montero will receive another chance. Earlier Sunday, Wheeler threw a bullpen session, saying afterward that he felt no discomfort in his biceps. Eligible to come off the DL on Friday, Wheeler would slot neatly into the rotation the following day, pushing Montero either back to the bullpen or to Triple-A.
But Wheeler is on an innings limit and even if he weren't, the Mets would inevitably need a sixth starter again.
Whenever that need ultimately arises, Montero has at least ensured he will remain part of the conversation.
"He feels better now. He wants to do good," Rivera said. "He can pitch in the big leagues."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.