Rafael Montero has shown an impressive ability to pitch well at an advanced level known for its hitting. He provided another example on Friday night.
The Mets' No. 3 prospect struck out eight and gave up three hits over 6 1/3 scoreless innings, but Triple-A Las Vegas squandered a late lead in a 3-1 loss to visiting Tucson.
Montero scattered a double, two singles and a walk, throwing 59 of 88 pitches for strikes. After allowing his third hit, a leadoff single to Gregorio Petit in the fifth, he retired the final seven batters he faced.
The 22-year-old right-hander has been on a roll over the last month, going 4-2 with a 1.95 ERA in eight starts since July 25. Montero has fanned 45 batters and allowed 37 hits over 50 2/3 innings since moving up to the Pacific Coast League.
"At times, you'll see guys shy away from the strike zone a little bit because we're here in Vegas," manager Wally Backman said earlier this month. "And really just seeing him grow over the course of the time we've had him, the kid just attacks the strike zone now and he's really good when he does it. At 22 years old, to be able to locate his fastball and throw his secondary stuff for strikes when he has to is pretty impressive."
Overall, the native of the Dominican Republic is 12-7 with a 2.78 ERA and leads the Mets organization with 150 strikeouts over 155 1/3 innings between Double-A Binghamton and Las Vegas. With the PCL entering the final weekend of the regular season, he's already notched career highs in wins, strikeouts, innings pitched and starts.
"I think he's able to keep the ball on the knees, locate to both sides of the plate," Backman said. "His changeup is a plus changeup and his breaking ball is a pitch that will get better in time. Right now, it's good enough, but at 22 years old there's, of course, a lot of room for improvement."
Montero exited with a 1-0 lead, courtesy of an RBI single by Kirk Nieuwenhuis in the sixth. Las Vegas, trying to nail down the Pacific Southern Division title, took that lead into the ninth, but Justin Hampson (6-4) surrendered an RBI single to Dean Anna and a two-run homer to Mike Wilson.
Sean O'Sullivan (8-5) recorded his first PCL win since June 24, limiting the 51s to a run on six hits over eight innings. Brad Boxberger struck out the side in the ninth for his fifth save.
Las Vegas owns a two-game lead over second-place Sacramento with three to play.