It's the Same Game as Athletics' Montas Tries to Balance Baseball, Parenthood

John Hickey

Oakland A’s starter Frankie Montas may have come as close as anyone to perfectly encapsulating Major League Baseball in 2020 in five words.

“Same game, just different rules,” Montas said Saturday in a video conference call with the A’s media.

There were going to be different rules for Montas this year, no matter what, since his wife, Nicholette, is expecting in September. The couple has a 4-year-old son, Michael; this time around they’re expecting a daughter.

He’ll do everything he can as a baseball player, but parenthood is the priority, particularly in the age of COVID-19 coronavirus.

“I’m trying to stay away from people and stuff; I’m trying to keep a distance and still be able to work,” Montas said in a video conference call Saturday. Frankie and Nicholette talked out their options and decided they would take the chance of having Montas pitch for the A’s.

The A’s are looking forward to it. Montas was an All-Star Game candidate, owning a 9-2 record and 2.70 ERA through June 20. On June 21, he was handed an 80-game suspension. At that point, the A’s were 11-4 in games started by Montas and 29-32 in games started by everybody else. Injuries had riddled the rotation and it seemed the A’s were cooked.

But a patched-together rotation got it together, the offense took off and Oakland finished with 97 wins.

That brings us to the 60-game season of 2020. Montas is excited about the rotation, which includes his buddy, ace Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea, a lefty who missed the first five months of the 2019 recovering from surgery, and two rookie lefties, A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo. Both Puk and Luzardo were coming back from injuries last year. And while Luzardo is currently out after having tested positive for COVID-19, the expectation is that he could be part of a special rotation.

Montas believes that.

“Honestly, I feel really good (about the rotation),” he said. “I feel like you can throw any guy out there and he’s gonna get the job done, man. I’m really confident about all these guys”

Montas, who thew some pitches at 100-mph during the time he was working out during baseball’s coronavirus shutdown, will again be one of the hardest-throwing starters in the game this year. But he’s been that for a while now. He didn’t put his game together until last year.

He abandoned the changeup he’d been throwing for years in favor of a split-finger. In the spring of 2019, he needed some time to have it kick in, but once it did, he had command of the strike zone with not just the splitter, but also with his fastball.

In 2017-18, his first two years with the A’s he pitched in 97 innings, walked 41 and struck out 79. In the 15 games before his 2019 suspension, he threw 90 innings, walked just 21 and struck out 97.

“He finally found his talent,” manager Bob Melvin said of Montas, who wasn’t supposed to be in the A’s rotation last season. “The talent level caught up and the confidence all came together. Once he got the opportunity to start, he took full advantage of it.

“And he’s electric. I mean (you can) match him up against anybody in our division, and really, anybody in the league right now. The trick is sustaining it and doing it for a longer period of time. But in the fashion he’s doing it right now, it’s pretty exciting.”

And there’s a bit of a new look, too. He spent baseball’s downtime working on his third pitch, a slider. He’s optimistic it will help him going forward.

“I was trying to find a way to make it bigger and shorter,” Montas said. “I’m always trying to get better, always trying to improve something or learn something new. I’m looking for a little more control, trying to hit my spots.

“You know, just trying to find a way.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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