'Amazing' Montero continues evolution with scoreless outing

July 9th, 2024

DETROIT -- Tigers catcher Jake Rogers dug ’s slider out of the dirt, got out of his crouch and stood in the opposite batter’s box, waiting for David Fry to make a move to first. Montero had essentially descended the ladder on the Guardians’ designated hitter, getting Fry to fan on a high fastball for strike two before throwing back-to-back sliders, the latter well out of the zone for the first of Montero’s four strikeouts.

Rogers needed to tag him, but Fry needed to get out of the box. So they had fun with a standoff.

“He was playing around with me,” Rogers said, “so I just stood there. It’s all in fun.”

The way Montero has pitched his last two starts, it’s easy for a catcher to have fun. The way Detroit's No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline keeps putting up innings, including 6 1/3 scoreless frames in Monday’s 1-0 win at Comerica Park, makes it easier for a manager to relax, too.

“I think the night starts with Keider,” A.J. Hinch said. “He was amazing.”

This could’ve been a disaster scenario, thrusting Montero into a rotation spot after Casey Mize went on the injured list last week. Starting pitching has been the Tigers’ salvation for most of the season, generally with five guys plus Matt Manning. Montero looked talented but young in two spot appearances, but Detroit decided to give him a shot and see how he reacted to a routine.

“I’m grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to be here,” Montero said through translation from Tigers manager of Spanish communications Carlos Guillen. “We’re on the same page. They want to win. I want to win.”

Two quality starts later, Montero is showing the potential that caught the Tigers’ eye in Spring Training, turning quality pitches into a quality pitcher with a little boost in confidence.

“What Keider can do,” Hinch explained, “is take a plan, a goal, and then put it into play in a bullpen [session], and then take it into a game.”

Case in point: When the Tigers optioned Montero to Triple-A Toledo a couple of weeks ago, Mud Hens pitching coach Doug Bochtler and director of pitching Gabe Ribas worked with him on how to improve against left-handed hitters. Lefty bats hit Montero for a .337 average and 1.049 OPS in Triple-A, including 14 extra-base hits and nearly as many walks (16) as strikeouts (18). The Phillies took advantage of that on June 26 with a lefty-loaded lineup, including three hits from Brandon Marsh and a double from Bryson Stott.

Montero’s first MLB win on Wednesday in Minnesota was a step in the right direction, holding down Minnesota’s switch-hitters and lefties aside from Brooks Lee. The Guardians gave him a bigger challenge: Eight batters from the left side.

“Keider’s a really good learner, a really good kid to coach,” Hinch said. “[Pitching coach Chris Fetter] does a great job giving him a game plan. He goes out and executes. So all of that, because he’s a good learner, and because he’s willing to learn and evolve and develop, our confidence grows every outing. The best thing for him is to continue that mindset while getting experience up here, and he showed tonight he can do it.”

The pitches were already there, from a power fastball to a high-spin slider, a buckling curve and a changeup. What Montero needed was confidence, execution and sequencing.

Montero needed just 73 pitches to work through Cleveland’s lineup thanks to plenty of early-count swings. Yet while he threw 35 fastballs, he mixed in double-figure curves, sliders and changeups, drawing 10 called strikes on secondary pitches.

"He had everything. All four pitches,” Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said. “He was hitting the knees with the fastball, hitting the top rail, landing breaking balls, good changeups, just really kept us off balance and forced us to take some kind of ugly swings at times."

By mixing them all together, Montero kept changing eye levels as well as speeds on Cleveland hitters, none bigger than switch-hitting All-Star José Ramírez.

Montero put Ramírez in an 0-2 hole in the first inning with a first-pitch fastball and a changeup at the bottom of the zone, setting up Ramírez to chase a slider off the plate for a groundout. Three innings later, Montero flipped in a curveball in between high fastballs for a three-pitch strikeout.

When an Angel Martínez single brought up Ramírez in the seventh, Montero tried getting him to chase offspeed pitches before escaping with a well-executed 3-0 fastball on the edge, which Ramírez flew out to right.

Montero left from there to a standing ovation. He’ll get another challenge with the Dodgers later this week, but he’s rising to the occasion.