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Notes: Montas, Luzardo bring the heat during BP

@MartinJGallegos
February 20, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- A quick glance at the numbers compiled by Frankie Montas last season would tell you his 2019 campaign was a massive success. But in reality, it was a struggle for him to get through it. After putting together a first half worthy of consideration to start the

MESA, Ariz. -- A quick glance at the numbers compiled by Frankie Montas last season would tell you his 2019 campaign was a massive success. But in reality, it was a struggle for him to get through it.

After putting together a first half worthy of consideration to start the All-Star Game, what was looking like a storybook campaign for Montas quickly turned into a nightmare on June 21, when the right-hander received an 80-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

The suspension included disqualification from postseason play, meaning instead of potentially getting the start in that all-important American League Wild Card Game against the Rays, Montas was forced to watch from home as his team’s season came to an end.

“Obviously, last year was a dark time for him,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Especially to have to go through and watch his team that he was such a big part of in the first half.”

But it wasn’t all bad for Montas after the suspension. He did find a bit of redemption upon his return in September, contributing to a critical win against the Angels in a playoff race as he tossed six innings of one-run ball. For Melvin, that start was more impressive than the entire first half, where Montas shined by going 9-2 with a 2.70 ERA over 15 starts.

“What he did when he came back and had to pitch in a pennant chase, and he pitched like he did in the first half, it meant that he worked very hard in his downtime to come back and give us what he gave us that day,” Melvin said. “He came back late and gave us a little bit of a contribution. Now he’s all in and excited. Seems to be in a good mood every day.”

Now, Montas enters the 2020 season as an integral part of the starting rotation, and he has even received some early projections as a dark horse candidate for the AL Cy Young Award. He was all smiles on Thursday as he and fellow rotation mate and hard-throwing Jesus Luzardo both lit up the radar gun as they faced catchers Sean Murphy, Jonah Heim and Collin Theroux in batting practice sessions.

“Luzardo looked like he was pretty good today,” Melvin said. “Bad draw for the catchers, who rarely get to hit off live pitching because they’re catching them. Then, they get to hit off those guys. That’s the life of a catcher in Spring Training.”

Melvin intrigued by defensive wizard Allen

Nick Allen, ranked as the A's No. 6 prospect by MLB Pipeline, is a non-roster invitee for the first time in his career, but Melvin knows all about the slick-fielding shortstop.

Allen first got on Melvin’s radar two springs ago. Then a 19-year-old, who had never played above low-A ball, Allen was called up from Minor League camp to play in a Cactus League game against the Dodgers. It didn’t take long for Allen to make an impact as he laid out for a diving catch at short to take away a hit.

“He’s a magician at short,” Melvin said. “The offensive part is going to kind of tell the tale of where he goes, but when you’re that good defensively, you don’t have to hit a ton. He’s one of our better prospects, and I don’t know that we have a better defender in our development.”

Allen’s 2020 Cactus League debut will have to be delayed a bit as he’s dealing with a shoulder injury in camp, but Melvin is “eager to play him quite a bit” once healthy. Named to MLB Pipeline’s All-Defense team for 2020, Allen is a player certain to put together some more highlight-reel plays as Spring Training progresses.

“You watch him take ground balls and there isn’t a hop he’s scared of. He just goes and gets it,” Melvin said. “Whatever he ends up getting, he ends up picking every time. He’s just got really clean, soft hands. One of those guys that doesn’t come around too often as far as how he looks defensively. It’s not just routine stuff. He makes the great plays and is fun to watch. He’s unique.”

Martin Gallegos covers the A's for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MartinJGallegos.