'Not my best': Montas bumpy in Bronx debut

Righty undone by 5-run second as Yankees drop opener to Blue Jays

August 19th, 2022

NEW YORK -- The Yankees are confident they haven’t seen the real, full Frankie Montas yet, with the right-hander on a pitch count and coming off a shoulder issue when they acquired him from the A’s in one of the biggest deals at this year’s Trade Deadline. 

Still, the early returns have been less than ideal.

Montas’ initial struggles in pinstripes continued Thursday night, when the righty’s first home start in the Bronx featured boo birds and ended in a 9-2 loss to the Blue Jays. Tagged for six runs over six innings, Montas was done in by a five-run second and watched his Yankees ERA balloon to 9.00. He’s now permitted 26 baserunners over 14 innings in his first three starts with New York, after pitching to a 3.18 ERA in 19 starts for Oakland. 

He’s been charged with six runs in two of his three outings since the trade, both Yankees losses. Previously, Montas hadn’t allowed six runs in any of his past 36 starts dating back to June 21, 2021. 

“A lot of emotions come at Yankee Stadium, and of course, I want to go out and do my best,” Montas said. “This is not my best. I want to do my best, but this is not that.”

Those early returns look even worse when compared to the pitchers the Yankees gave up at the Deadline. JP Sears, the young lefty New York sent to Oakland as part of the deal, owns a 1.74 ERA in two starts with the A’s. The Yankees also sent Jordan Montgomery to the Cardinals in a different deal, only to see Montgomery allow fewer hits (12) than Montas has runs (14) over his first three starts with St. Louis and pitch to a sparkling 0.54 ERA. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ return for Montgomery, Harrison Bader, is yet to suit up in pinstripes due to injury.

The Yankees acquired Montas, who is under club control through 2023, for this stretch run and beyond. So a handful of rough starts shouldn’t define his Bronx tenure, even if they are concerning. The trouble Thursday was how quickly Montas found himself in trouble, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s three-run homer highlighting Toronto’s five-run second. José Berríos then held the slumping Yankees lineup in check for 6 2/3 sharp innings, making a footnote of Oswaldo Cabrera’s first career hit. Cabrera’s double to right-center off Berríos in the fourth marked the Yankees’ first hit from a rookie this season (they had been 0-for-18 previously).

“I was around the zone, it was just that second inning when I was missing my spots,” Montas said. “They’re a really good team, and when you miss spots to a good team, you’re going to pay the price. I was just missing spots. I wasn’t making good pitches.”

Asked to identify Montas’ issue Thursday night, manager Aaron Boone also cited the right-hander’s command and noted the lack of “really good finish” on his split-fingered fastball. Statistically, Montas’ stuff looks similar to what it was in Oakland, where Montas was a top six finisher in Cy Young voting as recently as 2021. Montas’ velocity was actually up Thursday, and his spin rates have been consistent with what he produced with the A’s.

His four-seam fastball usage did spike in his first two Yankees starts, but Montas reincorporated his sinker more on Thursday, throwing it 38 percent of the time -- more than any other pitch -- and effectively. It produced an average exit velocity of just 81.5 mph, and only one “hard-hit” batted ball (at least 95 mph exit velocity).

However, the hitter-friendly dimensions at Yankee Stadium didn’t help Montas out. Guerrero’s three-run second-inning homer -- which came on a four-seamer -- traveled only 362 feet to right-center and wouldn’t have gone out at any other big league stadium, according to Statcast. Zooming out, Montas is throwing his four-seamer at a career-high rate this season and the sinker at a career-low, while getting fewer chases and harder contact off the sinker every month since May. Historically, that’s the pitch that’s been key to Montas’ success.

“Physically, I think he’s in a good spot,” Boone said. “I think it was a matter of not having that really good command that you need against a lineup like that. They made him pay in the center of the plate a few times.”

Said Montas: “I am going to go out and give 100 percent every time. I’m going to give it my all, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”