New York Yankees: Jordan Montgomery’s rotation spot is his to lose

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Jordan Montgomery

Now recovered from injury, Jordan Montgomery really has no excuse for not being named the New York Yankees’ fifth starter in 2020.

Josh Benjamin

Jordan Montgomery deserves to be back on the field.

The last year and a half have been basically lost for the tall lefty. Montgomery underwent Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2018 and pitched just twice last season.

Now, instead of having a spot in the New York Yankees‘ starting rotation locked down, the man they call “Gumby” has to fight for his job. Entering spring training, Montgomery will compete with veteran J.A. Happ and, potentially, rookie Deivi Garcia for the fifth starter’s job.

Under perfect circumstances, Montgomery should win his job back easily. He’s younger than Happ at just 27 years old, more experienced than Garcia, and has nasty stuff when healthy.

However, anything can happen in spring training where the most unlikely of players can look like bonafide All-Stars. This means Montgomery must be at the top of his game next month and throughout March.

The fifth starter’s job is his to lose, and he knows it.

Growing pains

Montgomery’s rookie year can be defined in two words: growing pains, and I’m not talking about the hit TV show starring Alan Thicke. He looked strong more often than weak, but he had his peaks and valleys like most rookies experience.

All in all, Montgomery made 29 starts as a rookie and went 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA. He finished sixth in 2017 AL Rookie of the Year voting.

And Montgomery burst out to a good start early in 2018. He was 2-0 with a 3.62 ERA in six starts before blowing out his elbow. The rotation got crowded while he was gone, suddenly putting his future as a Yankee in limbo. Would he be traded? Relegated to the bullpen? Non-tendered a contract as though he was never really there in the first place?

Quick reality check, everyone; Montgomery having a contract for 2020 doesn’t mean any of those options are off the table. For all we know, Happ could show up looking like his old self and shut down the competition. Garcia could break out and win the job on sheer dominance alone.

Jordan Montgomery’s elbow may be better, but his spot on the Opening Day roster is anything but guaranteed.

Advantage Montgomery

The good news for Montgomery is he knows just how well he has to pitch to be named New York’s fifth starter. Moreover, it turns out how he was pitching in years past might have had a lot to do with why he was injured in the first place.

Appearing on MLB Network Radio, Montgomery discussed how he had been “contorting” his body his rookie year just to get proper follow through on his arm. The tall lefty also mentioned how he “cleaned everything up” regarding his mechanics.

These may just seem like general talking points but put them in the proper context given what the Yankees have done this offseason. Matt Blake has replaced Larry Rothschild as pitching coach and brings a long-overdue modern approach. The training staff has been completely revamped after two years of injuries piling up.

Everything is set up for Jordan Montgomery to achieve his goal of winning a spot in the Yankees’ rotation. Now, it’s just a matter of execution on his part.

Why Montgomery?

And even though Jordan Montgomery has to earn his roster spot in 2020, he is still the best man for the fifth starter’s role.

Why, you may ask? The answer is simple. For all of the risks associated with Montgomery, be it is lack of velocity or tendency to issue walks, he makes the rotation complete.

Look at it this way. Newly-signed Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino are the tried-and-true aces. They aren’t the No. 1 and No. 2 starters, but Nos. 1A and 1B. Their mix of velocity with sliders and breaking pitches makes for a devastating 1-2 punch.

Gerrit Cole, Cole Train T-Shirt

James Paxton, meanwhile, is a lefty whose blazing fastball is only complemented by a knee-buckling curveball and swooping cutter. When it’s on, Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter is unhittable.

This brings the conversation to Montgomery who, in terms of stuff, doesn’t seem like much. Per Fangraphs, his average fastball velocity sits at a modest 91.7 miles per hour. Though a low number, this isn’t a problem. Montgomery mixes his fastball with a sweeping curveball and a nasty changeup that keep hitters guessing, resulting in an 8.29 career K/9 for the young southpaw.

Craftiness kills hitters, and Montgomery has craftiness for days.

Final thoughts

All in all, Jordan Montgomery knows the pressure is on. The Yankees’ depth speaks for itself and naming the fifth starter won’t be an easy task for manager Aaron Boone.

For Montgomery, however, it isn’t just a competition. It’s a matter of proving he deserves to be in the rotation over battle-tested veteran and an unproven rookie. He says he’s ready physically, so it’s time for him to go to work.

The Yankees have three options. They can either go with the aging J.A. Happ and hope his mix of fastballs and changeups finds a way to avoid giving up home runs. Or, depending on how he performs, they can give Deivi Garcia the old college try.

The team’s last option is rolling with Jordan Montgomery who, compared to both Happ and Garcia, is a far better pitcher. Baseball is moving away from fastballs and towards more offspeed pitches, something at which Montgomery excels.

The stage is set for Montgomery’s triumphant return. Now, he just has to prove he’s worthy of it.

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