Jordan Montgomery Stifles Red Sox in Regular-Season Debut, Earns First Win in Over Two Years
NEW YORK — 833 days.
That's how long it's been since Jordan Montgomery had last recorded a victory starting a game for the Yankees.
The road back from Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2018 for Montgomery has been a long one. Not to mention the fact that his return was pushed back even further in the form of a four-plus month hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Friday night's performance, however, proved to Montgomery that all his hard work had paid off. The southpaw pitched 5 2/3 innings against the visiting Red Sox in the Bombers' home opener, striking out four and allowing just one run in a 5-1 win.
"It’s just an accumulation of all the hard work and grit to get through it," Montgomery said. "I felt good out there and I’m glad to get that one off my shoulders."
His last win came on April 21, 2018. At the time, Montgomery was fresh off a spectacular rookie season, striving to solidify his status in the Yankees' starting rotation. Surgery on his left elbow in June kept him on the shelf for the rest of the '18 season and the first 150 games of the 2019 campaign.
When manager Aaron Boone heard how many days it had been since the hurler's last win, for a moment all he could say was "wow."
"It’s been a long time coming for him," Boone said. "I’m proud of him getting back and to get us two outs into the sixth and be pretty pitch efficient was really exciting."
Montgomery was perfect through his first two frames before he faced adversity for the first time in the top of the third. Boston's first baseman Michael Chavis led off the inning by launching a solo shot on a fastball on the inside corner. It gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.
From that point on, Montgomery was able to settle in. He escaped a bases-loaded jam the following frame by getting Chavis to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the threat. The double play — one of three the Yankees' defense turned behind him — came on a changeup down in the zone.
"Changeup command was really good, I had them in-between speeds," Montgomery said. "Grinded there for a couple innings, found a little rhythm in the fifth. Got a lot of ground balls and the defense behind me played great, got me out of a lot of jams."
Montgomery wound up throwing 81 pitches — 52 for strikes. Four of his five pitches were used over 10 times, effectively mixing in the hard stuff to get ahead, before burying curveballs as his swing-and-miss out pitch.
The left-hander's success didn't come as a surprise for Boone. Montgomery had showcased in both Spring Training and Summer Camp why he belongs in New York's starting staff.
He led all of Major League Baseball with 22 strikeouts in a shortened spring, posting a 2.81 ERA over five appearances and 16 innings pitched. Then, after a lengthy coronavirus-induced layoff, Montgomery was dealing at training camp. The southpaw capped off a solid few weeks at camp with five-scoreless innings against the Mets in New York's penultimate exhibition game.
"I thought he was good," catcher Kyle Higashioka said. "Mixing all of his pitches really well and I think we did a good job getting ahead of guys and really just capitalizing on that and not trying to be too fine. Really good first outing for him."
If Montgomery's regular-season debut on Friday night was any indication, replicating his campaign from 2017 won't be too far out of reach. Finishing sixth in the race for the American League Rookie of the Year Award that season, Montgomery led all rookies in starts (29), strikeouts (144) and innings pitched (155 1/3) while posting a 3.88 ERA.
The road back to where he is now may have been a long one, but Montgomery said he's learned quite a bit along the way. He found that the best way to thrive during a situation out of his control was to stay ready.
"I’ve been ready," he said. "I stayed in my routine and made sure I didn’t get rusty or not ready. Can’t get ready if you don’t stay ready. A starter’s world is their routine. If you stick to it, you’ll be right where you need to be."
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