After the Yankees agreed to terms with Gerrit Cole in December, the outlook on New York's starting rotation immediately changed. With Luis Severino healthy and poised to join Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ, alongside the club's brand new bona fide ace, the Bombers' rotation was good to go.
At the time, Jordan Montgomery – set to return from Tommy John surgery – was on the outside looking in. Set to pitch for a full season for the first time since his rookie year in 2017, Montgomery didn't factor into the Yankees' staff and in all likelihood would have been forced to embrace a long reliever role.
Now, with Severino out for the year after his own Tommy John surgery last week and Paxton sidelined for the next several months, not only is Montgomery an integral contributor to this rotation moving forward, but he's proven he's up to the task with two strong spring performances thus far.
In two separate two-inning appearances, Montgomery has yet to allow a run. The left-hander as of Monday has only surrendered one hit this spring while striking out seven batters. After his Spring Training debut on February 24, relieving Cole after the ace's high-intensity start against the Pirates, Montgomery was overjoyed by his ability to touch 94 miles per hour on his fastball – something he hasn't done for years.
"That’s the first time I've hit 94 in a while," the southpaw explained. "And I was hitting it in sim games consistently. I feel good about my arm strength and mechanics and they’re only going to get cleaner, stronger."
His next outing was a start on Saturday during a split-squad matchup with the Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla. While the focus was on Cole's second start of the spring back at the Bombers' facility in Tampa, Montgomery plowed through Boston's lineup. He struck out four while effectively mixing in his offspeed pitches.
“I feel strong right now,” Montgomery told reporters in the visitors clubhouse. “I’m still working on some timing and kinks and stuff. But arm strength and confidence-wise, I’m feeling good.”
While Cole and the Yankees' injuries have been heavily publicized, Montgomery has been getting his work in, doing his best to solidify the back end of this hobbled rotation.
The excitement surrounding this club's core of young hurlers who could impact this thinned out rotation – like Michael King, Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt to name a few – is palpable. Having a healthy Montgomery in the four spot of this staff significantly lessens the blow of another left-hander Paxton missing time to start the season. Montgomery is proven at this level and ensures – at the moment – that New York won't need to look elsewhere to fill the fourth spot in the rotation.
The southpaw will be aiming to replicate his rookie season, a campaign in which the University of South Carolina alum went 9-7 with a stellar 3.88 ERA in 29 starts. Beyond his ability to limit opponents from scoring runs, his durability was spectacular – at 24 years old, he finished his first big-league season with the third-most innings pitched among Yankees' starters (155.1).
Since then, Montgomery has made just seven regular season starts, missing close to two full seasons following his left elbow surgery in the summer of 2018.
Now, the 27-year-old is healthy and looking ahead. He recalled a productive offseason with a routine (including a sufficient amount of rest) that has the southpaw ready to take advantage of the spring and prepare to take on a bigger role in 2020.
"I'm excited to just have a real Spring Training," he explained, describing his mix of rest and "grinding" that kept him in shape to cap off his recovery. "Really worked hard this offseason to get my arm strong and have my body ready. I think I'm in a good spot right now."
Montgomery won't make the headlines like Cole and he may continue to slightly fly under the radar until Opening Day, but his presence in the rotation has the potential to be essential in this staff's success. That is, so long as he can stay healthy too.
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