TAMPA, Fla. - Rafael Montero started spring training seventh on the Mets' starting pitching depth chart. With Zack Wheeler lost for the season after Wednesday's successful Tommy John surgery, Montero has moved up in the pecking order.
Montero started and allowed just one run in four innings Wednesday in the Mets' 7-2 win over the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.
It would be an upset if he beat out 2014 Opening Day starter Dillon Gee for a rotation spot, but the Mets still are talking up a competition between Gee and Montero.
"We like our options with Dillon, but there's no reason why we couldn't go another way," manager Terry Collins said. "So we'll leave it open."
But with righthanders Vic Black (shoulder) and Bobby Parnell (return from Tommy John surgery) expected to begin the season on the disabled list, Montero also could fill a big role in the bullpen -- if he's ready.
The always honest Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen admitted he may not be.
Asked if he thought Montero had the mind-set to handle an important relief role, Warthen said: "I think he does. I just don't know whether it's right now. Hopefully, we will put him into situations where he gets comfortable out of the pen. And then I think you can move him into any role you want after he's comfortable in the major leagues."
The problem for Collins is he doesn't have a lot of time to wait for a rookie's comfort. The Mets are hoping to contend and the manager will be in the crosshairs if they don't.
Collins, when asked what Montero's role will be, said: "On the team. Somewhere."
Mets bullpen candidates after the "Big Three" of Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia and Carlos Torres include Buddy Carlyle, Zack Thornton, Sean Gilmartin, Scott Rice and whichever relievers might fall off somebody else's equipment truck between now and April 6.
(Gilmartin, a Rule V lefty, threw 11/3 scoreless innings Wednesday to lower his ERA to 5.87.)
And possibly Montero. In 2014, he went 1-3 with a 4.06 ERA in 10 games (eight starts) with the Mets. This spring he has a 4.00 ERA in three outings after allowing three hits, walking none and striking out four Wednesday.
"That might be the best command I've seen him have with all his pitches," Collins said. "I was very, very impressed."
The Mets still consider Montero's future to be as a starter. But with Noah Syndergaard and Long Island's Steven Matz knocking on the door in Triple-A Las Vegas, that opportunity may not last for long anyway.
So what could make Montero an effective reliever? Warthen talked about Montero's physical attributes, but also offered a thought on how being in the big leagues could help the 24-year-old's mental development.
"No. 1, he's extremely resilient," Warthen said. "It doesn't matter if he throws 110 pitches in a baseball game. The next day, he's able to go out there and throw the baseball free and easy. His pitches -- his sinker, his four-seamer, his command -- all work very well. But I also think that he is not as advanced maturity-wise as far as educationally as some of our others. The education in the big leagues will help him."
Just to make sure it was clear Warthen wasn't knocking Montero, he added: "I mean the education of baseball."
It's an education Montero wants to see continue at Citi Field, not Las Vegas.
"I'm here to pitch," he said.
Where and when to be determined.