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Jordan Montgomery has shown steady improvement this season with each start

Jordan Montgomery of the Yankees throws a pitch

Jordan Montgomery of the Yankees throws a pitch during the first inning against the Rays at Tropicana Field on Tuesday in St Petersburg, Fla. Credit: Getty Images/Douglas P. DeFelice

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Joe Girardi saw it coming.

The Yankees’ manager from 2008-2017, during an interview with Newsday in spring training, predicted a standout 2021 for Jordan Montgomery, a pitcher to that point of the spring who was flying somewhat under the radar.

"I think he’s going to have a big year," Girardi said.

Montgomery, though with some hiccups here and there, has had a good year, one steadily getting better and better.

Ignore the 4-5 record. Montgomery has been plagued by a lack of run support all season but, after grinding through five scoreless innings in Tuesday night’s 4-3 victory over the Rays, the 28-year-old lowered his ERA to 3.78. In his last seven starts, Montgomery, again receiving little run support, is 1-4 but with a 3.00 ERA.

Montgomery, 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA against the Rays this season, has held opponents to three runs or fewer in 16 of his 20 starts.

"It seems like every time out there he’s holding the other team to a couple runs at the most," DJ LeMahieu said. "He’s looked really good changing speeds and doing his thing out there."

Montgomery, a come-from-nowhere story to win a rotation spot late in spring training 2017, rewarded Girardi and the organization’s faith by going 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA in 29 starts, which earned him sixth place in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.

His development was disrupted in May 2018 when he left a start in Houston in the first inning with elbow pain and he underwent Tommy John surgery a month later. The 6-6, 228-pound Montgomery, given the forever nickname of "Gumby" while in college at South Carolina, returned in September 2019, appearing in two games. He still was trying to find the feel of his pitches in 2020 when he went 2-3 with a 5.11 ERA in 10 starts.

But rival talent evaluators took note of a different Montgomery this spring, one who very much resembled the pre-surgery pitcher who got by with a low-90’s fastball and deceptive, darting off-speed pitches – his curveball in particular – that kept teams from barreling balls up.

"I think that first year you’re coming back from Tommy John, you’re looking for your command, [but it’s usually] velocity that comes back and the command doesn’t come back until later," Girardi said in March. "So I think he’ll have much better command of all of his pitches."

Montgomery attributed his success to just that, which has helped in other areas.

"I think I’ve got a little more time out of (Tommy John surgery)," he said. "Trusting my arm, confidence in my stuff, aggressiveness, (being) comfortable on the mound. I’m trying to think less when I’m out there aggressively competing. I feel like I’m one of the better pitchers in the league, but then my mind gets in the way and I try and do too much. So I’m just trying and go out there leave it on the field."

It has not been all smooth sailing for Montgomery who, victimized at times by soft contact that found holes, had a 4.75 ERA over his first eight starts of the season.

"I think he does a really good job of not getting distracted no matter what’s going on," Boone said. There’s been games where it’s been soft contact and he’s been a little bit unlucky or games we haven’t scored for him. He just keeps making pitches."

In the end, Boone said, it comes down to a somewhat simple analysis.

"He’s a really good pitcher and continues to get better and better, and more and more confident," he said.

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