After his 25th professional game, 21-year-old hurler Rafael Montero was asked whether his effort on Sunday was his best.
"From the past starts, this is the best one," Montero said through his translator and Class A Savannah manager, Luis Rojas, "but I feel like I'm going to have better results."
Considering how well he pitched, that is confidence personified.
The Mets' No. 10 prospect allowed one hit over six shutout innings as the Sand Gnats beat the visiting Augusta GreenJackets, 5-3.
Montero (3-2) retired his first six batters before Joseph Staley singled to start the third inning.
"I thought I had him set up and threw a changeup," Montero said. "The hitter was out front and barreled the ball good and hit it hard. The first baseman couldn't handle it because it was hit too hard."
The 21-year-old right-hander retired 10 in a row before walking Carlos Willoughby in the sixth. He also pitched around a free pass to Alberto Robles but exited unscathed.
"I was thinking I might be out of gas," Montero said, "but then I regrouped."
Montero struck out five. Augusta didn't advance a runner past second base on his watch.
"Most of all, I was fine-tuning some stuff to have better command of my pitches, staying back on [my] back leg a little longer. I worked on that this week," Montero said. "The fastball was my best pitch. If I had to rank them, it would fastball, changeup, then slider.
"My progress is going really, really well. I feel stronger, I want to develop more the changeup and will keep working on it hard."
The three-pitch repertoire has helped Montero to a 2.64 ERA through his first eight South Atlantic League starts. Last year, his first in pro ball, he compiled a 2.15 ERA in 17 games, including 12 starts, with four low-level affiliates including short-season Brooklyn. The Mets signed him out of the Dominican Republic in January 2011.
Last June 3 in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, Montero pitched five no-hit innings. More recently, he struck out seven over six scoreless frames on April for his first win of the season.
Jared West pitched two hitless innings before the GreenJackets scored three times in the ninth off Randy Fontanez. T.J. Chism recorded the final two outs for his fifth save.
Cleanup man Dustin Lawley smacked a solo homer and Travis Taijeron added a two-run shot for the Sand Gnats.
Augusta starter Kevin Couture (2-2) gave up one run on three hits over four frames and Paul Davis surrendered four runs over three innings.