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Montgomery looks to have staying power

Young left-hander has the look of a starter proving he belongs in the majors

Jordan Montgomery delivers the ball to the Chicago White Sox. (AP)

When Jordan Montgomery first arrived at the University of South Carolina, the coaching staff watched him move around the pitcher's mound and instantly likened him to a baby giraffe. That's not an enviable comparison, but that's who Montgomery was. He was tall, he was skinny, he was baby-faced and he was wobbling more than he was staying balanced.

Eventually, Montgomery found his balance and found out just how talented a pitcher he really was. Eventually, Montgomery, who was expected to pitch in relief for the team, blossomed into South Carolina's best starter. Eventually, the baby giraffe stood tall, won 20 games, pitched in the College World Series and grew into a professional prospect.

"By his sophomore year, you could see it," said Chad Holbrook, the head coach at South Carolina. "You could see that he was going to pitch at the next level."

Now Montgomery is pitching at the next level with the Yankees and is proving why he is the type of savvy pitcher who could have serious staying power. Montgomery pitched smoothly into the seventh inning to lead the Yankees past the Chicago White Sox, 7-4, and notch his first major league win on Monday night. Until Yolmer Sanchez drilled a three-run off a fastball that cut too much in the seventh, the left-handed Montgomery had baffled the White Sox with his smarts and his stuff.

Standing 6-foot-6-inches and using an over-the-top delivery, Montgomery delivers the baseball from a unique arm slot. Because most batters aren't accustomed to seeing a pitcher throw from such a release point, Montgomery's pitches are automatically deceptive. Since this pitching style is the only style Montgomery has ever used, he's always been deceptive.

Along with Montgomery's deception, he is a four-pitch pitcher who uses all four pitches in any situation. Montgomery throws a fastball that averages about 92 miles per hour, he throws a hard-breaking slider that generates a plethora of swings and misses, he throws a change up that has fading action and he also throws a curveball. Holbrook said Montgomery has always had "the courage" to pitch to both sides of the plate, too, which is another plus on his resume and which is something every pitcher should learn to do.

In Montgomery's first two starts, he is 1-0 with a 4.22 earned run average and has generated 29 swings and misses. Whether it was Evan Longoria swinging over a slider, Steven Souza, Jr. swinging through a fastball or Jose Abreu getting fooled by a change up, Montgomery has been artistic. He is poised, he gets ahead in counts, he works quickly and he competes. Man, does he compete.

"One thing about Jordan is that he always pitched better in the big games," Holbrook said. "He wanted to be in those games. He's quiet and shy, but don't be fooled by that. He's a competitor."

Two games into Montgomery's career, I've been very impressed. Pitchers get outs by deceiving hitters and the inherent deception in Montgomery's delivery isn't going to suddenly become easy to decipher. Like any young pitcher, the 24-year old will surely encounter some potholes, but Montgomery's presence and his pitching have caused some teammates to rave about how seamlessly he has blended in with the Yankees.

The first time I watched Montgomery pitch this spring, I was intrigued by his delivery and wondered how batters would react to the ball soaring toward them on an extreme downward plane. Imagine standing at the bottom of a small hill and trying to connect with a pitch that is fired at you from the top of the hill. While Montgomery isn't standing on a hill, he is standing on a ten-inch mound, he is raising his arm several inches above his head and he is throwing the ball from a funky angle.

Before spring training, Montgomery wasn't one of the five pitchers competing for the final two berths in the starting rotation. But Montgomery muscled his way into the skirmish and won a spot. Guess what? I don't envision Montgomery being displaced anytime soon. The Yankees have been thrilled by his performance and they are also curious about his future. No longer a baby giraffe, Montgomery has serious staying power.