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Teammates give Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom a warm welcome

Mets pitcher Rafael Montero throws live batting practice

Mets pitcher Rafael Montero throws live batting practice during spring training Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom arrived in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium fresh off a cross country flight. They found a receiving line made up of former teammates at Triple-A Las Vegas.

Jenrry Mejia greeted the pair, followed by Wilmer Flores, Travis d'Arnaud and Zack Wheeler. Just like Montero and deGrom, they too have been part of the Mets' youth movement.

"It should tell you 'hey we're trying to win,' and those are the guys we think we can win with," manager Terry Collins said.

As Collins noted, the Mets have been criticized in the past for holding back prospects until late in the summer, mostly to keep them from achieving Super Two arbitration status. In the long run, the tactic saves money, though at the expense of the big-league club.

But in Montero and deGrom, the Mets didn't wait, which Collins said should be seen as a sign.

"I think it says a lot," Collins said. "We've been a little ridiculed at times worrying about Super Twos, worrying about things down the line. We're worried about winning."

Enter Montero, the slight 23-year-old righthander, whose build has prompted teammates to dub him "Little Pedro," as in Pedro Martinez.

"This guy has a feel for pitching," Collins said. "He knows when to pitch inside, he's not afraid to pitch inside, he's a strike thrower. Again, it may not be Matt Harvey stuff, but he can pitch. And he knows how to use his stuff. He's just got a knack for it."

In 24 starts dating to last season at Las Vegas, Montero posted a 3.25 ERA despite the hitter-friendly confines of the Pacific Coast League.

"I've felt ready for awhile now," Montero said through a translator. "But the decision wasn't up to me, the decision was up to Terry and [general manager Sandy Alderson]. And now they believe I'm ready, too."

That readiness will be tested in his first assignment Wednesday night at Citi Field, against undefeated Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka.

Said Montero: "For me, it's just special it's my first start."

DeGrom's opportunity comes after a strong start to his season at Las Vegas. The 25-year-old righty went 4-0 with a 2.58 ERA.

"I was locating the ball really well down, my two-seamer was pretty good, getting a lot of ground balls," said deGrom, who also noticed an uptick in his velocity.

As a professional, deGrom hadn't worked out of the bullpen until spring training, an experience he believes will help in his transition. He knew that a promotion was possible when the Mets yanked him from his scheduled start at Las Vegas. Not until the sixth inning did he realize he was getting the call.

Las Vegas manager Wally Backman congratulated deGrom. "I was trying not to think about it too much," deGrom said.

DeGrom's parents, grandparents and sisters were part of a large contingent of family members who flew to New York Tuesday in hopes of witnessing his big-league debut.

Though deGrom has been considered one of the Mets' better pitching prospects, he admitted he was somewhat surprised by his promotion. So were the Mets, who made the move when reliever Gonzalez Germen was placed on the disabled list with a virus.

"I was thinking it would probably be later," deGrom said. "I'm really happy that it happened now."

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