TAMPA, Fla. — Upon further review, Jordan Montgomery didn’t think he had such a good rookie season after all.
“I kind of panicked a little bit last year, which is not usual for me,” Montgomery said Monday after working out at the Yankees’ minor-league complex. “I didn’t make many adjustments.”
The numbers certainly did not show that.
After emerging as a dark horse late in spring training last year and capturing the fifth starter job, the 6-6, 225-pound lefthander looked solid much of 2017, going 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA in 29 starts and placing seventh in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.
By any objective measure, a pretty good first big-league season.
Not for Montgomery.
“I didn’t make many adjustments,” he said. “My fastball was inconsistent, my changeup was gone and I really kind of got through the year with two pitches. If I hadn’t had my curveball and wasn’t able to expand with it, who knows what would have happened? [But] it’s kind of good knowing I got through it without my best pitch, which is my changeup.”
Therefore, his priority is to work on that pitch. “Have to get my arm up, throw through it, which is easier said than done, but I feel like I’ve got a little more feel for it this year,” said Montgomery, a fourth-round pick of the Yankees in 2014.
He said he went through something similar with the changeup while at the University of South Carolina.
“In college, I lost my changeup for a little bit,” said Montgomery, 25, who was mentored much of last season by CC Sabathia. “It’s just a pitch you have to keep throwing. When you give up on it, that’s when it gets worse. That’s the last thing I need to do, which I learned. I went through it and hopefully it makes me a little better learning from it.”
Montgomery will be pushed in spring training by two of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects, righthander Chance Adams and lefthander Justus Sheffield, as well as by righthanders Luis Cessa and Chad Green.
Additionally, general manager Brian Cashman has stated a desire to add a rotation arm, and that’s something that still could happen if the price is right. That obviously would impact Montgomery, likely meaning he’d start the season in the minors as insurance.
“I can’t control any of that, so I’m not going to really let it take any of my happiness or joy away,” he said. “Just do my thing, carry myself the right way, work as hard as I can, and whatever happens happens.”
If Cashman isn’t able to make a move, Montgomery is the prohibitive favorite to land the fifth starter job, a far cry from last year, when he entered spring training basically cloaked in anonymity.
Montgomery said his approach is the same.
“I always try and work as hard as I can and treat it as if nothing’s guaranteed,” he said. “I feel like when you slack off and you think you’ve got it made, that’s when the carpet’s going to get pulled out from underneath you. So I’m just going to treat every day like I did last year.”
Sabathia took Montgomery under his wing last year, so the latter could not have been happier when the veteran lefthander re-signed.
“CC’s such a great guy and I feel like he’s experienced almost everything you can in the game,” Montgomery said. “When I was struggling, he was saying, ‘Hey, that’s part of it.’ When I had a good [stretch], he told me to stick with it and keep doing what I was doing. He definitely helped me a lot last year and it will be nice to have him around this year.”