Much of Eric Wedge’s pre-game session today was devoted to talking about the progress of Jesus Montero (and he said that Montero is definitely making some). Then Montero went out and won the Mariners a big ballgame with a huge home run in the seventh off A.J. Burnett.
That broke a 1-1 tie and gave Felix Hernandez the win in a game that looked like it was headed to a familiar result: Hernandez pitches his heart out, Mariners don’t score for him, and he gets a no-decision or even a loss. But after Hernandez’s home run, Hernandez blanked the Pirates in the seventh and eighth before Tom Wilhelmsen preserved Hernandez’s fifth victory with his ninth save.
“I was looking for a fastball,” Montero said. “He pitched me really good that first at-bat. Second at-bat he went ball, ball, ball. That third at-bat I was looking for fastball and he left down the middle. And I hit it good.”
The ball went to right-center, which is where Wedge and others have always maintained is where the brunt of Montero’s power is. But it’s not quite that easy, as Montero pointed out.
“That’s fine,” he said. “That’s the way I like to hit. That’s my approach. I’ve been practicing that and I try to do that every single time, but it’s hard. Pitchers are good.”
Montero, in fact, was hitting .197 when he came to the plate. Wedge hopes a hit like this will fuel the 23-year-old catcher, who has essentially lost the starting catcher’s job to Kelly Shoppach.
“It was a big boost, and it should be a huge boost,’’ Wedge said. “It’s something hopefully you can work off. You have to feel good about it for yourself, and more importantly for your teammates.”
All three of Montero’s homers this year have come with Hernandez on the mound. In fact, those two, fellow Venezuelans, have built a nice rapport, with Montero catching all but one of Felix’s starts this season.
Hernandez has a 5-1 record and 1.03 earned-run average in those seven starts with Montero behind the plate, and a 1.84 ERA in 13 career games throwing to Montero.
“That’s crazy what’s happening,’’ Montero said. “He pitches, I hit a homer. He wins. Unbelievable. Everybody knows he’s talented. He’s so good. Everything today was working — curveball, changeup, slider, fastball, sinker, everything.”
Hernandez, however, rated his stuff as merely “OK — not good as normally, but it was good.”
He noted that Montero “is maturing a lot. Behind the plate, he’s doing a lot better. He’s pretty good back there.”
In fact, Montero threw out his first baserunner of the season after 15 successful attempts against him. It was an odd play in the ninth in which Starling Marte stopped halfway to second and was caught in a rundown.
It’s not like this home run will magically cure what ails Montero, of course, but it does give a glimpse of why the Mariners, and just about everyone else, have been so high on his potential.