Rafael Montero threw two solid innings for the Mets in a 4-4 Spring Training tie in 10 innings on Thursday in Viera against the Nationals in his spring training debut for the big club. The 22-year old still has not thrown a pitch in double-A.
On Thursday, against Steven Strasburg, he was the best thing the Mets had going. In his two innings of work, Montero allowed one run, on three hits, all doubles, did not walk a batter and did not strike out one either. By my count, 24 of his 41 pitches were strikes, a rate of 58.5%.
Montero, whose best attribute is his command, was not at his best on Thursday. He went to two-ball counts on each of the first three hitters he faced and seven of his nine adversaries overall. In the first inning he was 92-94 mph with his heater. In the second inning, he was 92-93 with one 90 and one 94 offering each.
After the game, manager Terry Collins said he liked the way that Montero “pounded the strike zone.” Collins also praised Montero’s stuff, poise and demeanor.
From the other dugout, Nationals manager Davey Johnson agreed saying succinctly, “He threw the ball good.”
At the beginning of the 2012 season, Montero’s primary secondary offering was his changeup, which he used relatively sparingly against the Nats. He has good feel for the pitch from 84-86 mph and used it in three different counts (that I have notes on): at 1-1 to Denard Span in the first inning, at 0-2 to Adam LaRoche in the first inning and at 1-0 to Anthony Rendon in the second. His slider was his primary offspeed weapon Thursday. The pitch was 80-81 most of the time, with a short break. He hit 83 on an offering in the dirt, has come a long, long way in the last year, but still has some ways to go.
Rendon, who Baseball America ranked as the Nats’ top prospect, doubled off Montero in the second run to drive in the Nationals run. Even he was impressed. “Good stuff,” he said of Montero. The “ball jumps out of his hand.” Of Montero’s slider, which he saw on the first pitch of his at bat for a ball, he pointed to a deceptive release, it “came out of his hand just like his fastball. … It was really good.”
You know who is ridiculously good? Steven Strasburg. He was sitting 95-96 with his fastball a vicious curve at 78-80 mph and a changeup that dives like a splitter at 86-87 mph. This is not breaking new ground, but the dude, who struck out six Mets in three innings of work, is really fun to watch. Also, Strasburg’s command is strong (like puts Wheeler to shame): two of his strikeouts – of Omar Quintanilla in the second inning and Collin Cowgill in the third – came on just three pitches.
Nice stuff from Jorge Castillo in the Star-Ledger about Montero’s unusual route to the Mets, from leaving his family behind to his late signing age (20).
Other Mets Good Thursday:
– Travis d’Arnaud hit a pair of balls hard – one a clean single into left, and another that Ian Desmond at short oled into a double.
– Jordany Valdespin started at second and produced a pair of singles.