CINCINNATI — Rafael Montero capped off a rare banner day for Mets pitching, taking a shutout into the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over the Reds.
Earlier in the day, both Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard moved closer to returning to the rotation before season’s end, an encouraging sign as the Mets look to return to contention next season. But Montero seized the spotlight, using the best start of his career to stake his claim to a rotation spot of his own.
“He was the guy in charge tonight,” said Mets manager Terry Collins, who sent Montero to the mound in the ninth with a chance for his first complete game and shut out.
To that point, Montero had allowed just one hit before encountering trouble. After getting the first out of the inning, he surrendered a single to Phillip Ervin and a double to Zack Cozart before intentionally walking Joey Votto.
Before Collins’ decision to push Montero could backfire, closer A.J. Ramos struck out Adam Duvall and Scooter Gennett to end the game.
“I think I’ve regained the confidence I’ve had in the minors,” Montero said through an interpreter after walking four but striking out eight in 8 1⁄3 scoreless innings, the longest outing of his career.
For only the third time, Montero left a start without surrendering a run. And in each of his last four starts, Montero has surrendered three runs or less, a semblance of steadiness for a career that until this season has been marked by inconsistency.
“It’s been kind of building here the last month, month and a half,” said catcher Kevin Plawecki, who along with Wilmer Flores delivered consecutive two-out doubles in the first inning to knock in runs against Reds starter Homer Bailey.
Montero took over from there to conclude an encouraging day for Mets starting pitching, a rarity in what has been a brutal season.
At the team’s complex in Florida, Syndergaard threw a 25-pitch bullpen session ahead of a scheduled one inning stint with the team’s Gulf Coast League affiliate on Saturday. It will be his first game since tearing his lat in April.
And before Montero’s brilliant outing in Cincinnati, Harvey threw a bullpen session that will serve as his final tuneup before returning to the rotation in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Astros.
“It’s exciting,” said Harvey, who has been out since June with a stress injury in his right shoulder. “I’m glad to be back. I’m glad to be healthy for the first time in a long time.”
Despite middling results during his rehab assignment and velocity readings that barely cracked 92 mph — well below the norm for his career — Harvey insisted he would be ready. He’ll be limited to 80 pitches against the Astros.
“I feel like I’ve been around long enough and injured long enough to realize that velocity isn’t everything and getting people out and staying healthy is the most important thing,” said Harvey, who is 4-3 with a 5.25 ERA this season. “I’m not worried about where that’s going to be. Once you get some adrenaline going, get a professional hitter in there, things will start working the way they’re supposed to.”