From the moment he threw his first pitch Tuesday night, Rafael Montero seemed destined for a short outing.
Matt Carpenter laced Montero’s first-pitch fastball down the rightfield line for a double. Carpenter scored later in the inning, an unearned run, and the Cardinals tacked on three more runs (two earned) in the second.
But Montero settled in to twirl six solid innings with five strikeouts. He was the pitcher of record in the Mets’ 5-0 loss to St. Louis, but Tuesday was his third straight respectable start. Over his last four innings, he allowed no runs and just four runners to reach base.
The Mets (41-50) simply could not hit to get back in the game, landing on the wrong side of Michael Wacha’s three-hit shutout.
“After the second inning, things could have broken down on him,” manager Terry Collins said. “He didn’t let them. He went out and made pitches and still got outs. You looked up and in the seventh inning, we’re still right there, so I thought he did a nice job.”
Montero (1-6, 5.40 ERA) allowed one run, five hits and two walks and struck out seven in 5 2⁄3 innings in a win over San Francisco on June 25. The Phillies scored four earned runs against him on July 2, but he went 6 1⁄3 and struck out six.
In those three starts, Montero’s totals come out to a 3.50 ERA, 18 strikeouts and five walks in 18 innings.
Including his three relief outings since being recalled June 14, Montero has allowed nine earned runs in 25 1⁄3 innings for a 3.20 ERA.
“I think I’ve been seeing that since he got called up again, more confidence in his pitches, throwing his fastball consistently where he wants it,” said Rene Rivera, who started at catcher Tuesday night. “You’ve seen his breaking ball a lot . . . It was pretty good today. I see a different guy out there than the start of the season. He’s done a good job to focus on what he needs to do to be in the big leagues.”
And to stay in the game after things went poorly early.
“After that, I was able to make some adjustments,” Montero said. “I started to use all my pitches, my changeup, my slider and after that, things started going a little better.”