MLB: Cincinnati Reds at New York Mets

Game recap September 9: Can’t even tank properly

Rafael Montero started for the Mets on Saturday, and of course there were plenty of good seats available. Nothing scares fans away quite like a slow pitcher who walks five batters per nine innings in his career. Montero got his five walks in just five innings, but Cincinnati couldn’t cash in during a 6-1 Mets win.

Any time a pitcher is among the league leaders in walks, we probably imagine they are a “Wild Thing” like Ricky Vaughn from Major League. Some pitchers can be pretty effective even if they don’t quite know where the ball is going. When it comes to real life wild things, we expect inconsistency. Sometimes the pitcher knows exactly where the pitch is going and they get a strikeout. Sometimes they throw it to the backstop. Montero stands out because his walks are so consistent and predictable. He has the walks, but rarely flashes the upside and potential of other young starters with high walk rates.

Montero’s last batter sums up his approach pretty well. The Mets led 2-1 in the top of the fifth. Montero must have known he needed to be more efficient to go beyond the fifth, but he didn’t change his approach. With one on and two outs, he threw four straight changeups to Scott Schebler. Three of the changeups were out of the zone. Montero wanted to end his outing on a “perfect” pitch and kept nibbling out of the strike zone. Down 3-1, he threw a slider and managed to get a ground ball to end the inning.

That’s what we get in a relatively good Montero outing. He didn’t leave any mistakes over the middle of the plate. He didn’t hang any breaking balls. Montero seemed to be going out of his way to avoid the strike zone. He carried himself like a pitcher who was executing his game plan. His game plan was just so risk averse that Reds’ hitters could stare at ball four and take their free base.

We’ve all seen young pitchers who were wild to start their big league careers, then learn some command. Randy Johnson started his career with so little command that the Expos gave up on him before he blossomed into a Hall of Famer (editor’s note: This is not to imply that Rafael Montero is a future Hall of Famer). Montero had a few good starts, but for the most part he looks like the exact same pitcher he was when he got called up in 2014. He seems so afraid of big league hitters that he refuses to enter the strike zone any more than possible.

When I watched Robert Gsellman earlier this season, I didn’t get the same feeling. Gsellman was clearly trying to throw a sinker with more downwards break than lateral break. However, he couldn’t get that pitch to move like it did in 2016. The sinker was always flat. He either hung his slider or missed well out of the zone. Watching Gsellman, it was clear that the ball was not going where he intended it to go. That’s a mechanical issue that some pitchers can fix. Watching Montero last night, it felt clear that there is no obvious mechanical fix to improve his command.

Kevin Plawecki gave the Mets all the offense they would need with a two-run homer in the second. Dom Smith added a clutch two-out run in the sixth, and the Mets tacked on three more in the seventh to put the game out of reach. Phil Evans, who won the AA Eastern League batting title in 2016, got his first big league hit with a hustle double down the third base line.

It wouldn’t be a Mets game without some bizarre managing, and Terry Collins gave us another head-scratcher in the seventh. Matt Reynolds was hit by a pitch to start the inning. Travis Taijeron was on deck, but Collins pulled him back and asked Jacob deGrom to pinch bunt. A day after Milwaukee’s Jimmy Nelson hurt his rotator cuff running the bases, I can’t see why the Mets would risk deGrom with additional play in the field. If Taijeron isn’t good enough to play on a depleted roster, why is he on the 40-man roster? Then again, this is the team that keeps starting Jose Reyes instead of seeing if Gavin Cecchini can play. deGrom ended up walking and Amed Rosario came in as a pinch runner.

What’s Next?

The Mets look for a sweep against the Reds. Tanking is harder than it looks.

Photo credit: Andy Marlin – USA Today Sports

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