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W2W4: Key hitters for Montero

5/14/2014

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the Mets are the first team in the modern era (since 1900) to have a streak of three straight major-league debuts by starters who pitched at least five innings and held their opponents scoreless.

Rafael Montero will be challenged to match what Matt Harvey, Collin McHugh and Zack Wheeler did in their first times through. What will some of the keys be for him tonight?

Let’s provide a basic scouting report on some of the key hitters he’ll likely face.

Derek Jeter

Jeter is 3-for-7 in this series with three walks and has been as tough an out as he’s always been against Mets pitching.

Yankees vs. RHP
Lowest OPS in 2014

Prior to this series, Jeter was hitting only .209 with a .522 OPS against right-handed pitching this season. Most pitchers were getting him out by keeping the ball down. Jeter was 1-for-21 with eight strikeouts in at-bats against a right-hander that ended with a pitch in the lower-third of the strike zone or below. Of course, he did get a hit in this series on such a pitch, against Mets starter Bartolo Colon.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury was red hot until about 10 days ago and has since gone into a 4-for-34 funk, including 3-for-22 against righties.

The finish pitch against Ellsbury this season has been something soft and on the outer half of the plate. That’s been a common bond not just for him, but also for Jeter, Brian McCann and Alfonso Soriano. Ellsbury has a tendency to get out in front of those pitches a bit too much and roll them over.

He’s 5-for-25 against righties in at-bats that end with a soft pitch on the outer half of the plate (or off the corner). Fourteen of the outs are ground balls to the right side.

Yangervis Solarte

Go figure that a career minor leaguer may be Montero’s biggest challenge.

Yankees vs. RHP
Best OPS in 2014

Montero should keep in mind that Solarte is the Yankee least likely to swing at the first pitch. He’s only done so 15 percent of the time against righties in his first month-plus in the majors.

Solarte is a tough one in that he’s been effective in all three thirds of the strike zone (inner-third, middle-third, outer-third) and he’s shown the ability to hit pitches of every type.

Montero’s best weapon may be his changeup, a pitch considered at times to be his best offering. Solarte is 2-for-10 in at-bats ending with changeups from righties this season and he’s more likely to swing at that then Montero’s fastball, curveball or slider.

Montero will also need to be very careful with two strikes. Solarte has the Yankees highest batting average (.286 on 8-for-28) in two-strike counts this season).

Mark Teixeira

Teixeira may not be able to run, but he’s been swinging a hot bat. He’s hitting .302 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in his last 11 games, with all four homers coming against righties.

The best path to success for a right-hander against Teixeira is to pitch him inside. Over the last four seasons, Teixeira has put only 28 percent of his swings in play against pitches on the inner half of the plate (or off the corner) from a righty. That ranks among the lowest rates in baseball over that span.

What about trying to hit Tanaka?

Do you have Rafael Montero as the Mets pitcher who will break their season-long 0-for drought at the plate? Montero went 5-for-35 as a hitter in the minor leagues.

His best strategy may be not to swing. Tanaka has only thrown 46 percent of his fastballs (not his splitter) in the strike zone this season. That rate actually ranks seventh-worst among the 100 pitchers who have thrown the most fastballs this season.