Montgomery confident after dominating Jays

March 17th, 2021

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- heard applause as he walked off the mound at TD Ballpark on Wednesday afternoon, a smattering of boisterous Yankees fans having invaded the spring facility that will serve as the Blue Jays’ temporary regular season home next month.

Preparations are underway for the three-decade-old ballpark to take a turn in prime time, but the Yankees left-hander already looks ready to pitch in games that count. Facing a representative Toronto lineup, Montgomery fired five scoreless, hitless innings, continuing his excellent spring in the Bombers’ 1-0 Grapefruit League victory over their American League East rivals.

“This is how I want to pitch,” Montgomery said. “I hold myself to a pretty high expectation. I came in feeling good, and I’m just trying to stay right where I’m at.”

Montgomery struck out four, walked one and hit a batter in the 66-pitch effort, tossing 42 strikes. New York’s likely No. 4 starter behind Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon, the 28-year-old Montgomery has held opponents to one run and four hits over 10 spring innings, spanning three starts.

“Monty was really good; really sharp,” manager Aaron Boone said. “I thought he was really good with all his pitches. He especially incorporated the cutter a lot today and that was very effective with him. He was pounding the strike zone and on the attack kind of all day, really in command.”

On a windswept afternoon that stifled offense and sent papers whistling through the ballpark, Boone said he was pleased to see Montgomery keep his pitch count low, permitting him to complete the fifth inning.

That was an issue at times last season, when Montgomery was 2-3 with a 5.11 ERA in 10 regular season starts, though the Yankees believe he pitched better than those old-school baseball card numbers indicate. Specifically, the Yanks point to Montgomery’s 6.0% soft contact rate and his 3.87 FIP as indicators that he may have been unlucky.

“Going back even to last year, he’s had a better, more powerful fastball,” Boone said. “It’s a tick up from a velo standpoint, so he’s able to [throw his] four-seam up. He mixes in the cut fastball a little bit; his two-seamer is still in play. The better his fastball is and the better he’s commanding that, it’s going to set up his secondary stuff better, his curveball and changeup. Each pitch helps the other and hopefully it continues to lead to a lot of soft contact.”

Montgomery credits the bump in velocity to being healthy following Tommy John surgery, which he underwent in 2018. Montgomery said that he has been able to trust his arm and focus on his game plan once he is on the mound.

“I’m sure most guys that have had Tommy John [would] understand,” Montgomery said. “It just gets to a point where you’re back to normal. You just go through your delivery, get your arm up and throw the ball. I think I’m starting to get back there and just feel good with where I am.”

Montgomery retired 11 of the first 12 Jays he faced on Wednesday, a string interrupted by a second-inning DJ LeMahieu throwing error.

Montgomery said that he felt the effort puts him in a good spot about two weeks before Opening Day, aiming to continue working on repeating his delivery and working with good tempo before the games count in the standings.

“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Montgomery said. “That was a good lineup with a lot of good hitters up and down it. I felt pretty in control the whole outing. I felt comfortable throwing everything. You’ve just got to continually make pitches.”