VIERA, Fla. -- With few jobs up for grabs this spring in Mets camp, statistics -- which matter little in general this time of year -- will mean almost nothing throughout the month of March. But Rafael Montero's stats are an exception. After spending nearly all of last year on the sidelines due to a nagging shoulder ailment, Montero is running out of chances to prove he still has a future in the organization.
Thursday's Grapefruit League opener against the Nationals was a prime one -- an opportunity to pitch in front of manager Terry Collins, pitching coach Dan Warthen and other influential coaches, versus a lineup stocked with everyday big leaguers. It fell flat. Montero allowed the first five Nationals he faced to reach base, giving up four runs during a 39-pitch first inning in the Mets' 9-4 loss.
"It's not a big deal -- it is the first outing," Collins said. "But we've got to get the ball around the plate. That's our next goal."
Two walks were only part of Montero's control problem. Throughout the first inning, he repeatedly fell behind hitters, who in turn rapped singles all over the ballpark. Though no one tagged Montero for extra bases, Bryce Harper opened the game's scoring with an RBI single that struck the right-field wall on the fly.
"I'm really just looking at it as the first time going around," Montero said through an interpreter. "Hopefully everything will go better going forward."
Because of Montero's struggles, it's easy to forget that as recently as two years ago, he was ahead of Jacob deGrom and other prominent pitchers on the Mets' depth chart. Injuries subsequently crippled him for two straight summers, while Montero's hallmark as a prospect -- excellent control -- all but disappeared.
Yet opportunity still exists, largely because the Mets traded away much of the second-tier starting pitching depth in their farm system last season. If anything happens to a Mets starter early this season, Montero would be on the short list to replace him -- as long as he can avoid more days like Thursday.
"I don't think it was anything specific," Montero said. "Some days are good, some days are bad and this was definitely a bad one."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.