Injuries have created opportunities, and that means Rafael Montero could be significantly involved in the Mets’ plans for next season.
Though his strong beginning — one hit through four innings — dissolved into a merely satisfactory start in the Mets’ 11-7 victory over the Phillies on Monday at Citi Field, the righthander has pitched well enough this season to be part of the conversation for 2018.
Uncertainty surrounding the starting rotation likely will persist into spring training. That’s bad news for the Mets — but not for Montero, who was demoted to Triple-A in late May with an 8.24 ERA.
At that time, Terry Collins informed Montero, 26, that he needed to heed the advice of many.
“He was told by the pitching coach, by me, by his own peers that if you can’t throw the ball over the plate, you can’t pitch here,’’ the manager said. “We said we either see strikes or, you know . . . He went down and threw strikes. And he’s come back and he’s done exactly the same thing. When you have good stuff and you throw it in the strike zone, you’re going to get outs. And he’s done that since he’s been back. He’s thrown strikes, he’s using his changeup more.’’
Montero (4-9, 5.21 ERA) allowed four runs and five hits in 5 1⁄3 innings as the Mets snapped a four-game losing streak. He had allowed three or fewer runs in five consecutive starts and might have extended that streak if not for some faulty relief Monday.
The Mets gave Montero a 10-0 lead by the fourth inning. A six-run fourth against losing pitcher Mark Leiter Jr. (2-5) featured a two-run single by Gavin Cecchini and RBI singles by Jose Reyes and Brandon Nimmo, who had three hits. Asdrubal Cabrera had a two-run homer in the third, two batters after Reyes hit a solo shot.
Montero threw a career-high 12 1⁄3 straight scoreless innings before the Phillies pushed across a run in the fifth on Cameron Rupp’s groundout. He left with one out in the sixth after loading the bases on a single and two walks. Reliever Paul Sewald allowed all three inherited runners to score, throwing a wild pitch and giving up a two-run double to Hyun Soo Kim.
Montero’s status is based equally on merit and circumstance. Jacob deGrom is the lone healthy veteran starter at the moment. Matt Harvey has returned from the disabled list but has plenty to prove. Oft-injured Steven Matz will be coming back from elbow surgery and Zack Wheeler has been shut down. Noah Syndergaard could get a late-season start, which would be his first in the big leagues since he suffered a lat injury April 30. Seth Lugo is back after two stints on the disabled list.
Montero isn’t speculating on what the injuries may mean for his future.
”I’m just going to continue to do my job and I don’t have control over that,’’ he said. “So I’ve just got to work hard. I’m here to do my job regardless of what happens with, unfortunately, the injuries with other pitchers.’’