CINCINNATI — When the Mets sent Rafael Montero to the minors at midseason, the message was blunt: Throw strikes or you won’t be back. This time, it sunk in.
Montero gave the best performance of his up-and-down career Wednesday night, taking a one-hitter into the ninth inning. New York held on for a 2-0 victory that extended its dominance over the Cincinnati Reds.
“He’s learning one thing right now: His stuff in the strike zone can get outs,” manager Terry Collins said. “He pitched brilliantly.”
Montero (3-9) allowed only Joey Votto’s double through the first eight innings. Collins decided to let him try for the shutout — he’d never gone more than 7 1/3 innings — and the Reds loaded the bases with one out in the ninth on two hits and an intentional walk to Votto.
A.J. Ramos fanned Adam Duvall and Scooter Gennett for his 26th save in 28 chances.
The 26-year-old Montero realized when he was demoted that it was time to start trusting his pitches and throwing them over the inside part of the plate. It’s been working.
“I think I’ve regained the confidence I had in the minor leagues,” he said through a translator. “That confidence is definitely back.”
It shows in his results. Montero has gone at least five innings and allowed no more than three runs in each of his last four starts, the best such stretch of his career.
Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores and Kevin Plawecki doubled in the first inning for a 2-0 lead against Homer Bailey (4-7), setting up the Mets’ 12th victory in their last 15 games at Great American Ball Park.
The Mets had won 14 straight against the Reds overall since 2014, a streak snapped by Cincinnati’s 14-4 win Tuesday night.
The Mets will wrap up the series on Thursday afternoon and fly to Houston, which is recovering from the massive flooding caused by Harvey. After an unscheduled day off on Friday, they will play a doubleheader Saturday.
Bailey started on seven days’ rest because of a shoulder irritation that limited him to three innings in his last game. Bailey gave up four hits and one walk in six innings.
“I wasn’t really tired,” said Bailey, who threw 73 pitches. “We just weren’t sure about going through their lineup a third time. We felt we’d be better off getting a pinch-hitter up there and hopefully get something going.”
Collins met with his players pregame to talk about the trip to Houston.
“These are things that I’m sure nobody in this room has ever experienced, so it’s going to be an eye-opening experience,” Collins said. “It’s all part of life.”
The Mets are 19-27 since the All-Star break. The Reds are 17-28.
Duvall made a diving catch of Flores’ line drive to left field in the third, robbing him of an RBI hit.
The Mets saved $1 million by trading OF Curtis Granderson to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Granderson was owed $3,606,557 at the time of the trade, and New York agreed to pay Los Angeles $2,606,557 — $770,119 on Aug. 31, $888,599 on Sept. 15 and $947,839 on Sept. 30. New York has cut payroll by $10.3 million in recent weeks, also dealing OF Jay Bruce, 2B Neil Walker, 1B Lucas Duda and reliever Addison Reed while adding reliever Ramos.
Mets: RHP Matt Harvey threw in the bullpen on Wednesday and is scheduled to start the first game of the doubleheader in Houston on Saturday. He’s been sidelined since mid-June by a shoulder injury. … RHP Noah Syndergaard will make a rehab appearance Saturday for the Gulf Coast League Mets. He’s been out since May 1 with a torn muscle in his back. … SS Amed Rosario got a day of rest.
Reds: RHP Anthony DeSclafani is scheduled to throw in the bullpen on Friday in Pittsburgh, but the Reds no longer expect him to pitch this season. He’s been sidelined since spring training by elbow problems. “The focus isn’t on getting him back to pitch here in September,” manager Bryan Price said. … CF Billy Hamilton got a day of rest but pinch hit in the ninth and grounded out.
Mets: Jacob deGrom (14-7) tries for a career-best 15th victory. He’s fanned 201 batters, four shy of his career high from 2015. He’s faced the Reds once, getting the win in an 8-1 victory in 2015 at Great American by giving up a run in six innings.
Reds: Robert Stephenson (2-4) makes his sixth start of the season and his second career against the Mets. He faced them last September and gave up two runs in 5 1/3 innings of a 5-0 loss.
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