Can a pitcher throw too much of a good thing?
Take it from the A’s Frankie Montas. They can.
Montas’ development into an impact starting pitcher began in the spring of 2019 when he altered the delivery of his split-finger pitch and began releasing it with the same delivery that he used with his fastball. Batters struggled to read his pitches, they hit the ball on the ground much more frequently and he went 9-2 before his season was shut down by a PED suspension.
This year Montas was the A’s opening day starter, and he’ll be making his third start of the season Monday night in Seattle. And as good as the splitter has been for him, helping him to develop into a front-line starter, his modest 0-1 record and 3.00 ERA has him rethinking just when he throws it.
He has a 100-mph fastball in his arsenal, and he is considering showing batters more of the hard stuff earlier in games.
“I feel like I’ve been using (the splitter) too early,” Montas said before Sunday’s game in Seattle.
Too early? He explained that he’s thinking he’d be better off using the splitter sparingly the first time through the lineup, breaking it in more often come the third or fourth innings.
Make no mistake. The splitter is the pitch that has made Montas a pitcher of renown. He came to the A’s in the trade that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers in 2017. He arrived as a two-pitch pitcher, fastballs and sliders, and that’s the stuff of relievers. And Oakland used him as such in his debut season in green and gold in 2017, 23 games, all in relief.
The addition of the splitter, a pitch he can use as a changeup, altered everything. The A’s gave him a chance to start, and he blossomed last year. His control has sharpened along the way, his walks-per-nine-innings pitched going from 5.6 in 2017 to just 2.2 last year. At the same time, his strikeouts have jumped to the point where he fanned 103 in just 96 innings last year.
His walk and strikeout numbers have been a little off in his first two start this season, and that may be the reason he’s tinkering with his pitch selection. There may also be an issue of working with new catchers, Sean Murphy and Austin Allen this time around.
As much as anything, Montas wants to get deeper into games. He went four innings in the opener and five innings the second time around. He went at least six innings in 12 of his 16 starts last year.
“I’ve always been the type of pitcher that I get better going farther in the game. Going five last time, hopefully, I’ll go further than that.”
The A’s can only hope so. His career ERA in the first two innings is 4.06. From the third through the seventh innings, it’s 2.79.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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