51s' Montero cruises in return to PCL

Mets' No. 3 prospect strikes out five, pitches six scoreless innings

Rafael Montero put up a 3.00 ERA in five Grapefruit League appearances, including one start. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | April 4, 2014 2:25 AM ET

On Opening Night , Rafael Montero looked like his same old self in the Pacific Coast League. As far as the Mets are concerned, that's a very good thing.

MLB.com's No. 85 overall prospect struck out five and allowed four hits over six scoreless innings to pick up the victory Thursday as Triple-A Las Vegas defeated visiting Fresno, 9-2.

"That's the way Rafael does business," said 51s interim pitching coordinator Tom Signore, who's filling in while Frank Viola recovers from open-heart surgery. "He was amazing. His walk-to-strikeout ratio is always good. He's going to make you put it in play or he's going to strike you out."

Montero (1-0) set down the first five batters and did not allow a runner to reach second base until 16th-ranked Giants prospect Gary Brown doubled with two outs in the third. Joe Panik followed with a single to left, but left fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis threw Brown out at the plate to end the inning.

The 23-year-old right-hander surrendered another double to Chris Dominguez leading off the fourth but was perfect thereafter. He struck out three of the final nine batters he faced.

Signore found no fault with Montero for any of the four hits, including the two doubles.

"He really didn't [make mistakes with those pitches]," he said. "I'm looking at the spray chart right now and those were pitches that were down and hit on the ground. We'll take our chances with balls hit on the ground, especially here in the thin air."

The Mets' No. 3 prospect split last season between Double-A Binghamton and Las Vegas, combining for a 12-7 record and 2.78 ERA. He recorded 150 strikeouts while issuing only 35 walks over 155 1/3 innings.

Signore, who was the pitching coach for Double-A New Hampshire in the Blue Jays organization last year, saw the same Montero he remembered frustrating Eastern League hitters over the first half of 2013.

"As an opponent, I saw him pitch a complete game on 89 pitches," he said. "He does work quick. He generally gets you out in four pitches or less."

Working under an 85-pitch limit on Opening Night, Montero threw 79, including 55 for strikes. Signore and Mets pitching coordinator Ron Romanick will discuss moving that limit up to 90 for his next start.

In addition to his outfield assist, Nieuwenhuis went 4-for-4 with a solo homer and two runs scored. Zach Lutz chipped in two hits, including a grand slam in the 51s' five-run seventh.

"These guys are going to swing it," Signore said. "If we do our job on the pitching side, this could be a very exciting team because I think they're going to score a lot of runs."

Andrew Susac, San Francisco's No. 4 prospect, had two hits for Fresno.

Grizzlies starter Michael Kickham (0-1), ranked 17th among Giants prospects, gave up two unearned runs on eight hits with six strikeouts over five innings.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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