Montgomery's 'beauty' of a start continues rotation's upward trend

August 22nd, 2023

PHOENIX -- Mired in a rut, the Rangers arrived in Arizona on Monday looking for a change of fortunes.

First, it was left-hander who delivered what appeared to be the antidote, with eight scoreless frames in the series opener at Chase Field. Then, it was who delivered a two-strike, go-ahead two-run double in the 11th.

But Aroldis Chapman yielded just his second homer of the season in the ninth as he attempted to record his first save since July 15. After the fireballer worked a second frame for the first time in more than six years, Will Smith was unable to nail down the bottom of the 11th, leading to a 4-3 loss.

Manager Bruce Bochy said that with Montgomery having gone through the order three times -- and Chapman fully rested -- he didn’t consider sending the southpaw back out to attempt his first complete game since last August.

With the loss, the Rangers have dropped five in a row for the first since their seven-game losing streak from Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2022. More imperatively, their lead in the American League West slipped to 1 1/2 games over Houston and two over Seattle with 37 games to play after both clubs won earlier in the night.

Montgomery’s gem is the latest dominant starting pitching performance that the Rangers have received in August, as the club’s 2.43 ERA from its rotation is tops in the Majors. For the 30-year-old southpaw, it marks his fourth straight quality start since arriving from St. Louis just prior to the Trade Deadline.

Having received news earlier in the day that right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (right forearm strain) continues to progress after throwing a live batting practice session, an already-potent rotation appears plentifully stocked for a run at the club’s first division title since 2016.

Montgomery completely flipped the script from his previous outing vs. the D-backs on April 18, when he allowed season highs in runs scored (seven) and hits (10) across just four frames. That day, he deployed his changeup just 10.1 percent of the time, with the offering being hit for a homer and a pair of doubles on the three instances it was put in play.

Montgomery utilized his changeup at a 38 percent clip Monday, his highest usage of the pitch since May 22, when he unleashed it at a season-high rate of 44.3 percent. He said he stuck with the pitch as the start went on due to continued swings and misses: On the 15 occasions when D-backs batters swung, it elicited 10 whiffs. The two times the changeup was put into play went for an infield popout and ground out, respectively.

“I think we were budgeting for that changeup,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “We wanted to get it up and over. I think he just faded that changeup. … He didn't come off of it once it was working. He stayed with it and we needed to make quicker adjustments, which we didn't.”

When Montgomery departed with a 1-0 lead, he had amassed six strikeouts over eight frames with four hits and one walk. He recorded nine groundouts, giving him at least eight in each of his last four starts, his longest such span dating back to June 2022.

“What a game, just a beauty [of a start],” Bochy said of Montgomery. “He kept the ball down, a lot of ground balls -- he was on top of his game. It was what we needed with the bullpen strapped.”

While a 1-for-26 stretch that spanned from the third to 11th inning looms as a missed opportunity, that one hit was a seismic wallop from , who claimed sole possession of the AL RBI lead (93) on the back of his 31st homer of the year.

Having gotten the day off Sunday after being stuck in a 4-for-37 stretch, Bochy expressed confidence in his slugger pregame, noting that he felt getting García a mental day off was as integral as anything physical.

Even as the Rangers saw a rare double late-game hiccup, their revamped rotation offers the team reason for optimism down the stretch. Entering a nine-game, three-city (and three-time zone) road trip, Bochy cited a desire for Montgomery to give the team length. That’s precisely what it got.

The skipper summed up the mood succinctly as the club looks to move forward from a spot it hasn’t experienced this year:

“Hey, nobody said this was going to be easy. We gotta bounce back.”