Montas deals again, but tough luck continues

A's bats can't muster much vs. Astros, despite RHP's gem

June 1st, 2022

OAKLAND -- The curious case of  is becoming one of the stranger storylines of the A's 2022 season.

Montas has dazzled throughout the year with a string of dominant performances, much like his limiting of the Astros to just two runs across seven-plus innings on Tuesday night. It’s the runs scored, or lack thereof, by the A’s on days he pitches that is overshadowing his strong efforts, a trend that continued in a 3-1 loss to Houston at the Coliseum.

Entering the night with a run support average (runs scored while a pitcher is in the game) of 2.8, which ranked fifth-lowest among qualified Major League starting pitchers, Montas has been the definition of a tough-luck pitcher. That distinction remained true to form, now having received one run of support or fewer in eight of his 11 starts this season.

Over his last eight starts, Montas has posted a 3.04 ERA, working deep into most of those outings with 47 1/3 innings pitched. The A’s have lost each of those eight starts, with an offense that has totaled just six runs combined over his last six games pitched.

The A’s don’t exactly boast a juggernaut of a lineup, finishing the day last in the Majors in team batting average (.213), on-base percentage (.280) and OPS (.608), so this type of occurrence is not exclusive to Montas. However, those offensive deficiencies seem to reach extreme levels when he takes the mound.

“Frankie did a great job,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “It’s tough. Our starters are doing a great job. Our offense needs to score more runs. There’s a lot of pressure on [the starters] when they go out there, especially late in a game when they’ve pitched great to hold a lead or keep a game tied. It’s unfortunate that the last few outings for Frankie, he’s pitched great but been on the losing side.”

Montas handled the pressures of Tuesday’s close game quite nicely for the most part, particularly in the seventh. With the game tied, he induced a potential inning-ending double play ball against Jeremy Peña that kicked off the glove of Sheldon Neuse at the third base for an error that loaded the bases. Shaking off the defensive miscue, Montas came back three pitches later and got Jason Castro to ground into an inning-ending double play, letting out an energized display of emotion as he walked off the mound.

With Montas at 91 pitches through seven one-run innings, Kotsay opted to let him go back out for the eighth. Facing Chas McCormick to lead off the frame, Montas nearly retired him on a flyout near the Astros bullpen down the right-field line -- a ball Ramón Laureano got a glove on, but was unable to secure. A few pitches later, McCormick took advantage of what was really Montas’ first and only mistake pitch of the night -- a 97.1 mph fastball left over the middle of the plate -- and drilled it over the wall in center for a go-ahead solo homer.

“That’s a tough lineup to go through, especially three times,” said Montas, who was one batter short of a full three turns through Houston’s batting order. “I feel like I was making good pitches. My fastball was good today. It was just that mistake to McCormick that was middle-middle.”

That one pitch to McCormick aside, Montas was his usual filthy self. Though the five strikeouts were a bit lower of a total than the 11 he posted his last time out, he still pounded the zone with 64 of his 98 pitches going for strikes, also showing supreme command with zero walks. Of those 98 total pitches, 56 were either a sinker or four-seam fastball, taking advantage of an Astros’ club that seemed intent on seeing as many pitches as possible early on from the hard-throwing righty.

Lowering his ERA to 3.20, Montas remains one of the league’s best arms in several categories. He leads AL pitchers in innings pitched (64 2/3), ranks fourth in strikeouts (71) and is tied for ninth in opponents’ batting average (.208), along with teammate Paul Blackburn. His five losses, tied for third-most in the AL, certainly don’t indicate the season he’s having.

“The results just aren’t there offensively when he takes the mound,” Kotsay said. “We give him a couple of runs and that confidence and bulldog [mentality] in Frankie goes out there and shuts that offense down. He’s grinding. Overall, we’re still continuing to identify how we’re going to score runs. We’ve reduced our strikeouts. We’re taking more walks. But we're just not putting hits together.”