CLEARWATER, Fla. — Unhappy with the state of the battle for the final two spots in his rotation, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has added lefthander Jordan Montgomery to the mix.
Montgomery will start Thursday against the Rays in Port Charlotte. If he does well, the 6-6, 225-pound rookie could leap ahead of the five righthanders who have not nailed down a spot in spring training.
“We’re looking at him,” Girardi said Wednesday of Montgomery, who has a 3.48 ERA in four outings. “I like him a lot. I think he’s got really good downward angle. I think he’s got deception. I’m very curious.”
In 2016, Montgomery, 24, went 14-5 with a 2.13 ERA in 25 starts in Double-A and Triple-A. The 2014 fourth-round pick was even better at the higher level, going 5-1 with an 0.97 ERA in six starts.
Montgomery has pitched only in relief in spring training. He threw four perfect innings against the Tigers Friday to finish a combined no-hitter. “He’s used to starting,” Girardi said. “This will be a chance he gets to do his routine, and I want to see it.”
Montgomery wants to see it, too. Of course, he’d be thrilled to open the season with a spot in the Yankees’ bullpen. But why not go all out and try to make the rotation?
“It’s going to be good to get back in the starting rotation,” Montgomery said before quickly correcting himself. “Starting role. Just get back in my routine I had last year and kind of pick up from there. Just focusing on having fun, getting my keys and just playing. Just stay out of my head and play baseball.”
Asked to give a scouting report on himself, Montgomery said: “When I’m working well, fastball is usually 92 to 95. I don’t really rear back often, but certain counts I will. Try to get that extra and hit 96 instead of 93. Good changeup. That’s been my bread and butter all through college, all through pro ball. Curve ball. Good slider.”
If Montgomery can use all of those pitches Thursday to impress Girardi, he may get another chance to do so again. The door has been opened by the inconsistencies of the candidates, especially Luis Severino, who the Yankees think has the most talent of any of the would-be starters.
“Your hope is that someone would step up and dominate, but it hasn’t been that way,” Girardi said after watching Bryan Mitchell allow two runs in 4 1⁄3 innings to the Red Sox Tuesday night.
Mitchell, who has a 3.86 ERA in six appearances, was very pleased with his outing. Girardi? Not so much.
“He was OK,” Girardi said. “You look at the line score and it was OK. He gave up some hard-hit balls.”
Adam Warren (3.09 spring training ERA) is the only candidate guaranteed to be on the Opening Day roster because he is out of options and is a proven reliever. That versatility always hurts Warren, because the Yankees usually conclude he is more valuable in the bullpen.
The Yankees were hoping Severino (5.06 ERA) would grab a job outright, but he has not. Luis Cessa (6.52 ERA) has not impressed, but Chad Green (1.50 ERA) has of late.
Girardi has said the decision could come down to the wire. The Yankees open the season April 2 at Tampa Bay and with off days will need only four starters for the first two weeks anyway. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will be the top three.
Tanaka continued his sizzling spring training with 5 1⁄3 scoreless innings in the Yankees’ 7-3 victory over the Phillies at Spectrum Field. Tanaka has yet to allow a run. In 18 2⁄3 innings, he has given up six hits, walked three and struck out 22.
“I’ll take the results of how I did this spring,” Tanaka said through a translator. “But if you look at today’s game, I felt like I was still all over the place. My command definitely could have been sharper. Much adjustments need to be made, but the results I’ll take.”