After Luis Severino, the Yankees have openings at the top of their rotation for anyone who can turn in a quality start. It doesn’t take much to get promoted on this staff: Just make it to the fifth or sixth inning without letting the opposition do too much damage.
On Saturday, Jordan Montgomery, the fifth starter when spring training ended, made his bid to climb the ladder. He allowed one run, four hits and three walks in six innings, getting out of two big jams in the process, in a 9-1 victory over the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.
Montgomery is 2-0. His 3.80 ERA trails only Severino (2.63) and CC Sabathia (2.70), who has pitched only 13 1⁄3 innings to Montgomery’s 21 1⁄3.
“My thought process, especially when we’re struggling, just kind of be the guy to get us out of it,’’ Montgomery said. “But every game out there, I’m trying to go deep and give these guys the best I can, so I’m just going to go out there and compete.’’
Montgomery dueled former Patchogue-Medford High School star Marcus Stroman, who did not allow a hit until Aaron Judge belted a two-out, two-run home run in the third inning.
The Blue Jays scored a run in the fifth to make it 2-1, but it could have been much worse. Montgomery extracted himself from a first-and-third, one-out situation by striking out Teoscar Hernandez, getting Yangervis Solarte on a short fly to right and retiring Kendrys Morales on a forceout.
“I just got to be as aggressive as I can right there,’’ Montgomery said. “Kind of just not give in to anybody. Just not look at the big picture . . . I just gotta trust my stuff, not aim as much. Just kind of throw it up there for them to hit them. If they don’t, they don’t.’’
The Blue Jays also loaded the bases with one out in the third, but Montgomery struck out Hernandez and got Solarte on a pop-up to short.
Montgomery retired the side in order in the sixth, and when the Yankees scored seven runs in the bottom of the inning, Aaron Boone decided to go to the bullpen, which had something of a reprieve after throwing 10 1⁄3 innings in the previous two games.
“He was great,’’ the manager said of Montgomery. “Really proud of his effort. Knowing we needed to get a little length there, we considered even sending him back out for the seventh there, but once the inning got really long, turned it over [to the bullpen]. But a big effort and especially after he struggled a little bit through that fifth inning, walked a couple of guys, looks like he was tired, comes out and has a really clean, really fast sixth inning. It was huge. It was a huge effort and one obviously we really needed.’’
Montgomery, who threw 91 pitches, said he was good to go if Boone had asked him. “The way I think, I’m trying to go as many innings as I can,’’ he said. “So if we have a big lead and I get pulled in the fifth, then I do. But my thought process is seven and eight every time. And then you kind of aim high to miss low at six. I was trying to help our bullpen out. I was ready to throw 115 pitches today. [I’m] big, 6-6, 230 pounds. I can handle it.’’
Catcher Austin Romine, who said Montgomery’s big pitch was his changeup, noticed a difference in the lefthander’s demeanor from his rookie year. “Not that it was bad last year,’’ Romine said, “but he’s got more confidence. He’s been in higher-leverage situations. I think it speaks volumes for his character that he was able to keep the game slow, made pitches when he needed to.’’