Mets' Rafael Montero takes belting from homer-happy Nationals

Terry Collins wanted to see the pitcher Triple-A Las Vegas manager Wally Backman recently had raved about over the phone for an ability to attack batters and consistently throw strikes.

Instead, Rafael Montero Tuesday night resembled the pitcher he had been in a brief stint with the Mets earlier this season, when he struggled with his command and had a tendency to surrender home runs.

Montero, who took the rotation spot of the injured Jacob deGrom, allowed five earned runs and seven hits in five innings in the Mets' 7-1 loss to the Nationals at Citi Field. He walked two and struck out four.

The Mets (57-62) dropped to 81/2 games behind the first-place Nationals (63-53) in the National League East.

While Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and deGrom have made the transition from the minors to the majors appear easy, the 23-year-old Montero, a highly touted prospect, has had much more difficulty.

Montero fell to 0-3 and his ERA ballooned to 6.12. The numbers get worse. In five starts with the Mets, Montero has allowed eight home runs. He has walked 13 batters in 25 innings.

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Collins called the home runs "very concerning."

The Nationals' onslaught of home runs started in the second inning when Bryce Harper hit a towering two-run shot to leftfield. Yet Montero seemed to settle down after a 25-minute rain delay that started in the third inning.

It wasn't until the sixth when Montero's game fell apart.

Anthony Rendon started the inning by smoking a 3-and-2 slider that hung over the middle of the plate for a home run to left. Adam LaRoche then walked on four pitches. Pitching coach Dan Warthen visited the mound. It didn't help: Three pitches later, Ian Desmond cracked a 2-0 slider for a two-run homer. The Mets were suddenly down 5-0. Montero's night was over.

"It doesn't feel great, but it doesn't discourage me," Montero said through a translator. "The batters here are a little bit better."

Carlos Torres relieved Montero and allowed another home run -- a two-run shot by Michael Taylor -- before finally recording three outs.

Meanwhile, Doug Fister held the Mets scoreless for seven innings and improved to 12-3.

The Mets scored in the eighth when Eric Campbell's sac fly scored Daniel Murphy.

Montero earned the call over Noah Syndergaard, who is widely considered the organization's top pitching prospect but has struggled at times in Triple-A, based on "merit," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said before the game.

Montero was 6-3 with a 3.15 ERA in 17 starts for Las Vegas.

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"We have very high regard for Noah, there's no question about that," Alderson said, "but Rafael has been pitching great and merited the promotion."

Alderson said it wasn't a close call between the two because Syndergaard has an innings limit and Montero doesn't. Also, Montero was already on the 40-man roster and Syndergaard isn't.

"All those things were taken into account," Alderson said. "And the fact that Rafael has been pitching a little better recently."

Until Tuesday night.

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