Jordan Montgomery continuing to shine in major-league infancy
"I was committed to figuring it out with who we had in that clubhouse," Girardi said of the spring rotation competition, "but they all had a good first start, then a rough second, and the next couple they all had one good one and maybe a bad one. That's really how Jordan surfaced, in a sense; we knew he was a really good young pitcher, and I think our plans were for him to start in Triple-A and continue to develop, but he continued to shine and pushed his way through."
Last Wednesday, in his debut, Montgomery only made it into the fifth inning, but that was partially by design of pitch count limitation; the lefty allowed three runs, only two earned, in 4 2/3 innings, and Girardi praised him while also noting he didn't think Montgomery had his complete arsenal working.
That wasn't the case Monday night, though, as Montgomery's line of three runs on seven hits in six-plus innings didn't truly indicate how effective he was, as a good chunk of that line was marred by the two singles and three-run homer he yielded in the seventh before ending his night.
"Maybe he tired a bit in the end - his ball cut a little bit in the end, which is usually doesn't do, but I thought he was pretty good tonight," Girardi said after the game. "I thought he had all of his pitches today, some really good fastballs down in the zone, and I just thought his stuff overall was better."
Credit that, in part, to a little more comfort for Montgomery's surroundings.
"I kind of knew what to expect, knew the environment, and just went out there and stayed within myself," the lefty said. "I was a little less amped up this time, and went out there knowing I wasn't going to try to overthrow and blow it by everybody; I just had to trust my sinker and know I was going to get some ground ball outs with it."
Not that Girardi really had much worry, though, because another thing he praised about Montgomery was his poise on the mound. In a chat with Jack Curry, Chad Holbrook, Montgomery's college skipper at South Carolina, said that "Jordan always pitched better in the big games," and that by his sophomore year, "you could see that he was going to pitch at the next level."
Girardi sees it similarly, in that he believes it was that college experience that kept that competitive fire burning in Montgomery.
"I think he does have a lot of poise, and I think part of that comes from being the Friday night pitcher at South Carolina, pitching in a College World Series, and there being high expectations for your team," Girardi said. "I know it's not pitching in Yankee Stadium, but the College World Series is a big deal, and there's a lot of pressure and emotion involved. You have to learn how to control that and work through that; he had been through that, and I thought it would help him."
On that latter point, Montgomery agrees.
"(Pitching in the CWS) is kind of similar, yeah," he said. "Granted, I was 17 years old when I was doing that, so the big stage played up even more then, but I think I'm a little more mature now, and I know my game plan and know what I'm trying to do."
That touted poise carried over to the end of the game, where Montgomery - whom catcher Kyle Higashioka noted after his first start was one that "doesn't let one pitch determine an outing" - said that he looked at Monday's outing as good on the whole, focusing on the first six strong innings and knowing that he was still making pitches in the seventh, just missing the one that was hit for a home run.
Of course, the fact that the team won, and gave him his first MLB win in the process, surely helped.
"Yeah, that sounds good," Montgomery said, "but hopefully it's the first of many."
All of the above said, though, there is enough reason to wonder if Montgomery's next start will be in pinstripes. With off days Thursday and next Monday, the Yankees could, in theory, skip the lefty's next turn - scheduled, if nothing changes, for Sunday in Pittsburgh - and instead push his next start to April 30 against Baltimore.
That scenario is, on paper, a perfect storm of opportunity for the Yankees, so long as they optioned Montgomery to Triple-A on Tuesday or Wednesday; doing so prior to April 20 would let them carry an eighth reliever or extra position player for eight or nine games, and still keep the rest of their rotation on regular rest for the next turn through (with extra rest for Masahiro Tanaka because of his schedule).
Montgomery, meanwhile, would make his next start for the RailRiders, but if he's recalled on April 30, there would be no issue with the requirement that a player spend at least 10 days in the Minors once optioned (he would have 11 or 12), and he also wouldn't lose a minor-league option, because a player needs 20 days on option to lose one.
Girardi flatly dismissed that thought late Monday night, saying "I haven't really planned on making any changes," but if it were to happen? Well, there's that Montgomery poise again, shining through when asked about the possibility.
"I mean, if that happens, it happens…I just have to keep working hard and pitching my game no matter where I am."