Montas (11 K's) matches Catfish in Oakland history

May 27th, 2022

OAKLAND – Considering the illustrious career produced by Catfish Hunter, really any way to be mentioned in the same breath as the Hall of Famer is quite the remarkable feat. Frankie Montas managed to do that on Thursday night.

Racking up 11 strikeouts as he dominated his way through seven innings with just an unearned run allowed in the A’s 4-1 loss to the Rangers at the Coliseum, Montas continued his ascent among green-and-gold pitching royalty. Now with nine career outings of at least 10 strikeouts or more, the right-hander surpassed Dave Stewart and moved into a tie with Hunter for third-most 10-plus strikeout performances in the Oakland era.

The next two pitchers on the list? Barry Zito (11) and Vida Blue (21).

“Pretty dominant,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said of Montas. “Another outstanding effort. He knew what he was up against. [Martín] Pérez has been one of the best this year, and he showed why tonight. But Frankie matched him. We couldn’t have asked for more of a performance.”

With this being his second 10-plus strikeout effort in his last three starts, Montas was asked to compare the two brilliant showings. The first came on May 15 against the Angels, when he fanned a season-high 12 batters in six innings.

“I feel like today, I had better stuff than I had that last one with the Angels,” Montas said. “When I was pitching against them, just my fastball was really good. Tonight, I had my splitter and my fastball looking pretty good.”

Squaring off opposite Pérez, who has stifled most offenses he’s encountered this year as he ended Thursday with the second-lowest ERA (1.60) among qualified American League pitchers, Montas countered with his own premium stuff, allowing just three hits and walking two batters. There was the power fastball that maxed out at 97.5 mph. Standing out, however, was that splitter.

Montas threw the split-finger the most out of his five offerings (30 of 96 pitches) and elicited 10 of his 20 overall whiffs (swing and misses) with it, using it as the putaway pitch to six of his strikeouts. Gaining notoriety as one of the more unhittable pitches in the game, Montas’ splitter is certainly a nightmare for opposing batters, who are now just 7-for-64 (.109) with 21 strikeouts against it.

This superb outing served as a sigh of relief for the A’s after Montas exited his previous start in Anaheim when he was struck in the right hand by a comebacker. Throwing just 24 pitches in that start last week, Montas viewed the situation as a chance for extra rest heading into Thursday night.

“I was pretty fresh,” Montas said. “I felt pretty good. My arm was feeling really nice. I pretty much had two weeks off, so I felt pretty good with all of my pitches, especially my splitter.”

Lowering his ERA to 3.12 on the year, Montas is once again performing as Oakland’s workhorse and one of baseball’s premier arms. Among AL pitchers, he ranks second in innings pitched (57 2/3), fourth in strikeouts (66) and fifth in opponents’ batting average (.195).

The only thing missing for Montas against Texas was run support, which was low due to a similarly impressive outing of one run on four hits in seven innings allowed by Pérez.

There was optimism for an A’s offense that seemed to be emerging from a slump and returned hot from the road, entering Thursday having scored 34 runs over the previous eight games. This version of Pérez, though, who has now shut Oakland down twice this year, seems a lot different than the version of the left-hander the A’s have seen in years past during their AL West showdowns with Texas.

Kotsay said Pérez’s cutter was particularly effective.

“I haven’t seen that cutter in the past,” Kotsay said. “I think he’s really perfected it. He throws it to both sides of the plate, which is difficult for hitters. He was backdooring that cutter tonight really effectively and keeping us honest inside with his two-seamer. He mixed more changeups in today. I think that combination right now has him being really effective.”

The loss also put a damper on the specialness of tying a Hall of Famer in Hunter for Montas.

“It is what it is,” Montas said of his achievement. “I’m not really thinking about that right now. I’m just thinking about beating [the Rangers] tomorrow.”