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Mets, Braves rained out in fourth inning, forcing Rafael Montero into Friday start

Members for the Atlanta Braves grounds crew work

Members for the Atlanta Braves grounds crew work to cover the infield as rain begins to fall in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets Thursday, May 4, 2017, in Atlanta. Credit: AP / John Bazemore

ATLANTA — For a few hours, it appeared that the Mets actually might catch a break. Weather forecasts called for rain, and if Thursday night’s series finale against the Braves had been washed out early, the Mets’ pitching situation would have gotten much clearer.

Zack Wheeler’s start would have been bumped to Friday night at Citi Field against the Marlins, allowing manager Terry Collins to skip Rafael Montero, who was scheduled to be summoned from the minors to take Noah Syndergaard’s spot in the rotation.

Instead, as has been the case for much of the season, the Mets watched those plans go sideways. The rain fell Thursday night, but not until the top of the fourth with the Mets ahead 3-1 on Jay Bruce’s 10th homer.

The umpires stopped it before it could become an official game. The game was postponed after a two-hour wait, to be made up in a doubleheader when the Mets return to Atlanta in June or September.

“I have too much respect for the people in Atlanta to say much,” Collins said, clearly upset that the game was started despite poor forecasts.

The stats will not count, so Bruce’s homer will not stay in the books. Neither will Wheeler’s one run in three innings. But he threw 68 pitches, so he won’t pitch again until his next turn in the rotation.

With that, Montero is to start Friday night. The righty’s latest opportunity brings with it the usual questions about whether he truly has resolved to challenge big-league hitters.

“It’s really basic,” Collins said. “You’ve got to pitch, you’ve got to go pitch. And that’s not trying to go overpower guys. That’s using all your pitches, throwing strikes, changing speeds, getting balls out of the zone when you don’t have to throw a strike.”

Montero has a 5.51 ERA in 30 big-league appearances in the last four seasons. Though he impressed in spring training, he has allowed seven earned runs in 6 2⁄3 innings in six relief appearances. But for the Mets, Montero is the only immediate solution for an arms shortage.

Though Syndergaard got an encouraging report yesterday after seeking a second opinion on his partially torn lat muscle, his absence likely will stretch into the summer.

Tim Lincecum, Doug Fister and Jake Peavy are among the veteran arms on the free-agent market, but for now, the Mets have given no indication that adding a pitcher is imminent. Even if they reverse course, it still would take a few weeks for those pitchers to throw enough innings in the minors to prepare for major-league action.

Staying in-house remains problematic as well. Lefthander Steven Matz and righthander Seth Lugo are about two weeks away from beginning minor-league rehab assignments as they work their way back from elbow injuries, assistant general manager John Ricco said.

Both are expected to throw off a mound tomorrow at the team’s complex in Florida, upping the amount to 20 to 30 pitches during the session. But a return to the big leagues could be at least a month away.

If Montero struggles, it would accelerate the Mets’ search for an alternative. But regardless of whether they wait for their injured arms to heal or pluck a veteran free-agent arm from the scrap heap, reinforcements won’t be arriving immediately.

That leaves the Mets hoping for the best, with Collins looking at Montero’s numbers against the Marlins as a reason for encouragement. In 18 innings in nine appearances against Miami, the righthander has a 2.50 ERA.

“We know his stuff plays, we know his stuff is very good,” Collins said. “So trust it and throw to the strike zone.”

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