OAKLAND -- The A’s had three starting pitchers they would have been comfortable sending to the mound on Opening Day. But with a fast start more important than ever in a 60-game regular season, Frankie Montas was deemed the best man for the job.
Montas is an ideal candidate in this unique shortened season. While the early part of a season is usually a time when pitchers might still be trying to iron things out, Montas arrived to Summer Camp in great shape, feeling he could go five innings on the first day of practice after maintaining a regular throwing program back in Arizona following baseball’s pandemic-induced shutdown. Scheduled to throw 85 pitches in a simulated game on Sunday, Montas said he expects to be able to throw up to 90 pitches on Opening Day.
“He’s very prepared. Probably threw the most of any pitcher coming in here,” Melvin said. “There’s a lot to like about him. He throws close to 100 miles per hour with two really good breaking pitches and really came into his own last year. As we saw early in camp, he’s conditioned for it and a good guy to lead off with.”
Melvin sensed that Montas knew he would get the start when he delivered the news on Thursday afternoon. But the confirmation did not make it any less sweet for the 27-year-old right-hander, who has earned the first Opening Day assignment of his career.
“He smiled,” Melvin said. “It’s always a source of pride to be able to start the first game. There are a lot of things going on this year that are different, but I think being able to pitch Opening Day is a special day, regardless of the circumstance.”
Montas broke through with a dominant first half of the season in 2019, going 9-2 with a 2.70 ERA and 97 strikeouts over 90 innings through his first 15 starts. With talks of potentially starting the All-Star Game for the American League surfacing, Montas’ season took a bad turn on June 21 as he was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
While the news was a huge blow to the team, Montas never stopped working to keep his arm in shape, throwing on a normal schedule at the team’s Minor League complex in Mesa, Ariz. He returned from the suspension with an opportunity to start a crucial game in Anaheim with Wild Card implications on Sept. 25 and held the Angels to one run over six innings in a 3-2 victory.
Now, Montas returns looking to prove some people who felt his first half of 2019 was a fluke wrong. He will also be pitching with motivation as his wife, Nicholette, is pregnant and due to give birth in late September.
“It means a lot. After what happened last year, I’m just happy to be able to contribute for a full season without all that stuff,” Montas said. “I feel like this is every pitcher’s dream. For me, this is huge. I’m very happy about it.”