NEW YORK -- By the fourth inning of the Mets' 4-2 loss to the Yankees on Monday, Hansel Robles was already warming in the visiting bullpen. Consider it the Rafael Montero effect. The Mets are so uncertain when and how their most enigmatic pitcher might implode that, despite Montero's three standout innings to open the game, they were worried.
They had a right to be. After Brett Gardner led off the fourth with a sharp line drive, Aaron Hicks singled, then Montero walked two batters and uncorked a wild pitch. At that point, catcher Rene Rivera -- starting in large part because of his relationship with Montero -- jogged out to the mound for a chat.
"Here at Yankee Stadium, things can get crazy," Rivera said. "I just went out there to talk to him about it: 'This is another situation. Calm down and make one pitch at a time and we're going to be fine.' And he did it."
Gary Sanchez's sacrifice fly wound up plating the only run that inning, and just like that, Montero was cruising again. He made Todd Frazier look silly on a fifth-inning strikeout, one of six for Montero on the night. The right-hander's only other mistake came on an Aaron Judge home run in the sixth, leaving Montero with this final line: six innings, five hits, two runs and two walks.
The Mets will take that every time from Montero, if only he would comply. The Mets would also like to see more consistency from Robles, who coughed up Hicks' go-ahead homer in the eighth inning following a scoreless, two-strikeout seventh. As the Mets evaluate their pitching staff down the stretch, seeking to separate the wheat from the chaff, it has become difficult for them to evaluate Montero and Robles, two of their most talented -- and maddening -- pitchers.
"It's tough anytime you go into a game and you don't know what they're going to do," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "It's all about making sure they understand … you've got to be able to trust your stuff."
The Mets believe Montero's issue centers around just that -- trusting stuff that has been consistently solid all season. Through an interpreter, Montero even admitted that he nibbled around the edges of the strike zone early in the fourth inning Monday, before attacking the Yankees more aggressively from there. When asked why he does not attack the strike zone all the time, Montero shrugged: "Sometimes, before I even get a chance to make an adjustment, they hit you."
Robles' problem, according to Collins, is an unwillingness to pitch inside, though he did it effectively against Judge in the eighth.
"If I can throw in, I'll throw in," Robles said through an interpreter. "I can only control so much."
Realistically, both Montero and Robles will play roles for the 2018 Mets, considering the quality of their right arms. The Mets just can't plan on either being focal points of a team they hope will contend -- at least not yet. There's still time for both pitchers to develop the type of consistency the Mets crave, even though they've been unable to do so to date as their careers drift into middle age.
"It just shows you that we've got work to do," Collins said. "They've got good arms and they can have success here. We've just got to eliminate some of the errors."