Rafael Montero was not his usual self on Sunday afternoon.
He tends to strike out a ton of batters, keep the ball in the park and struggle with walks, but none of this was the case against the Athletics.
The 26-year-old righthander struck out four and allowed seven hits, one walk and three home runs over seven innings in the Mets’ 3-2 loss to Oakland. Montero took the loss, dropping his record to 1-7, but the game marked the latest in a string of encouraging performances, even if it was atypical in many respects.
“He threw very well. Two hanging sliders killed him,” said Terry Collins, in reference to home runs Montero allowed to Khris Davis and Matt Chapman to tie the game and give Oakland the lead, respectively. He also allowed a homer to Marcus Semien in the first inning.
“I felt good,” Montero said through a translator about his second career outing that lasted at least seven innings (his only longer start went 7 1⁄3 innings on August 17, 2014 against the Cubs).
He came into the game with a 5.40 ERA this season, while averaging 9.6 strikeouts, 5.0 walks and just 0.4 homers per nine innings.
Much of his struggles this season occurred early, as he posted an 8.24 ERA and walked 7.8 batters per nine over his first 19 2⁄3 innings, leading to a demotion to Triple-A in May. Since being recalled on June 15, Montero has a 3.34 ERA in 32 1⁄3 innings over four starts and three relief appearances. During this time, he has only walked 2.8 batters per nine, while continuing to average more than a strikeout per inning.
Montero said he has been working on his changeup, which he has been throwing more frequently. According to the pitch tracking website BrooksBaseball.net, Montero threw his changeup 10.7 percent of the time before getting sent down but 23.5 percent since being recalled.
“I think it’s finally starting to come out a little better. It felt good,” Montero said of the pitch.
After he departed Sunday, Fernando Salas and Josh Smoker extended the Mets bullpen’s scoreless innings streak to seven, limiting an Oakland offense that was averaging 4.9 runs per game since the All-Star break.
Montero’s outing was not perfect though, as the three home runs he allowed were the difference in the game.
“I need to keep the ball a little bit lower,” he said. “That’s really where I got into trouble and there was damage done against me.”
Montero did also get his first major league hit in the fifth on a single to right-center, ending an 0-for-28 start to his career.
“Given how today went, that part really made me happy,” he said.
As for his primary job, Montero said he is hopeful he can build off his recent performances.
“I definitely need to work more,” he said. “But I think it can get better and I can do better next time.”