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Montgomery preparing for starting rotation

After thriving in swing role last year, lefty wants ball every 5th day
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MESA, Ariz. -- For Mike Montgomery to be a more effective pitcher, he has to learn to say no.

With less than one week before Cubs pitchers and catchers have their first workout, Montgomery is considered a starter. That's what he prepared for this offseason; that's what he wants to do. The Cubs signed Tyler Chatwood to fill one of the two vacancies in the rotation following the departures of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to free agency. Right now, Montgomery has the other spot.

MESA, Ariz. -- For Mike Montgomery to be a more effective pitcher, he has to learn to say no.

With less than one week before Cubs pitchers and catchers have their first workout, Montgomery is considered a starter. That's what he prepared for this offseason; that's what he wants to do. The Cubs signed Tyler Chatwood to fill one of the two vacancies in the rotation following the departures of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to free agency. Right now, Montgomery has the other spot.

However, the lefty knows that could change. Montgomery is not checking Twitter every few seconds for the latest rumor -- his girlfriend and family filter the gossip, he said. What he doesn't want is a repeat of last season, when he was bouncing back and forth between starting and relieving.

"From a physical standpoint, it was hard," Montgomery said Wednesday about last season, when he made 14 starts and appeared in 30 games in relief. "It took a toll on my body, my arm. Making starts and coming out of the bullpen three days later, and pitching multiple innings out of the bullpen, I don't think it's something I want to do long term.

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"It's balancing my health in my mind and being able to help the club -- they kind of go hand in hand," he said. "If I'm at my best, even if it's a role I might not want to be in, I'll still physically be at my best to help the team. I think me at 70, 60 percent because I'm worn down is not going to help the team."

Montgomery, 28, has talked to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and new pitching coach Jim Hickey, and both agree with the lefty that they need to use him in the most productive way.

"I was in a role that's not very common in baseball," Montgomery said of being a swingman. "From their end, they might not have known how to handle it. My mentality was, 'I'm going to be ready to pitch at all times.' I kept saying, 'Yeah, yeah, I can pitch.'"

But Montgomery did so when it might have been more prudent to ask for a breather.

"I've always been a guy who has said, 'Yeah, I can pitch today,'" Montgomery said. "For me to learn that it's probably not the best to say that all the time [will be better]."

In Montgomery's first big league season with the Mariners, he was used exclusively as a starter. In the past two seasons with the Cubs, he's totaled more relief appearances, including his first career save in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

Video: WS2016 Gm7: Cubs win World Series with Game 7 win

Montgomery is looking forward to working with Hickey again. He was in the Rays' organization in 2013-14, and still recalls a conversation when the pitching coach encouraged him to use his curveball more.

"I wanted to be fastball, changeup," Montgomery said, "and I remember he said, 'Look, you're 6-5, a lefty [who] throws low to mid 90s. You need that breaking ball, so just focus on the breaking ball.' That kind of helped me out. ... He definitely knows what he's doing. I'm excited about [being together]."

Montgomery is also eager to see what the Cubs can do this year, especially if he's in the rotation.

"My goal and my mindset now is to be a starter and get in that routine," Montgomery said. "If something changes, it'll change. For now, I'm ready to take that starter role."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Mike Montgomery