With the brim of his green Yankees cap low on his brow, Jordan Montgomery was beaming as he came off the mound one final time on Wednesday.
Montgomery had thrown five scoreless and hitless frames against the Toronto Blue Jays, striking out four batters.
Sure, Montgomery's start in Dunedin fell on St. Patrick's Day, but this wasn't the luck of the Irish. This is how he wants and expects to perform.
"I hold myself to a pretty high expectation," Montgomery said after the Yankees' 1-0 win. "Came in feeling good and I'm just trying to stay right where I'm at."
Beyond a handful of base runners reaching via an error, walk and hit by pitch, Montgomery was perfect. He worked efficiently, throwing 66 pitches over the five innings, controlling a lineup that featured the majority of Toronto's starters.
Shutting down the Blue Jays' order—a group that included offseason additions like George Springer and Marcus Semien—has Montgomery feeling as confident as he has all spring.
"That was a good lineup. A lot of good hitters up and down it," Montgomery explained. "I felt pretty in control the whole outing, filled the zone up with all my pitches and I just felt comfortable throwing everything."
Montgomery's manager, Aaron Boone, agreed.
"Really sharp. Really good with all his pitches," Boone said. "He especially incorporated the cutter today and that was really effective. He was pounding the strike zone and on the attack all day and really in command of his outing and kept his pitch count down."
The ball didn't leave the infield through the first 2.1 innings with Montgomery on the ground. By the end of his stellar outing, a couple balls had been hit hard, but the left-hander never had to break a sweat.
That's been a bit of a trend this spring. Montgomery has allowed just four hits and one run across 10 innings pitched (three starts). He's struck out seven hitters in the span, walking only three.
Montgomery continues to distance himself from Tommy John surgery as well. He's entering his second full season since rejoining the club (after undergoing elbow surgery midway through the 2018 season). With "more faith" in his left arm than he's had since needing Tommy John, he's able to throw without worrying about how his arm will hold up.
"I'm in a pretty good spot right now," Montgomery explained. "I'm just trying to keep finding my tempo and keep replicating my delivery. The more I do that, the more I'm going to continually find a better rhythm and just make pitches and execute more pitches."
With two-plus weeks to go until Opening Day, the southpaw projects to be New York's fourth starter in a rotation full of question marks. Will Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon perform as advertised in their first season in pinstripes? Can Gerrit Cole pitch like the ace this club needs him to be? And what will New York get from Domingo Germán or whoever occupies the fifth spot?
For Montgomery, having a guaranteed spot in the pitching staff—not needing to compete for a job this spring—is giving him an opportunity to improve. Wednesday's start was proof of the progress that he's made.
"Knowing I have a spot in the rotation, I have a little more leeway of going into a game knowing what I want to work on instead of just trying to strike everybody out basically," he said. "So I can kind of get more prepared for the season this way, which is nice. It's good."
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