Friends, the Mariners game yesterday was dumb. How dumb was it? In terms of franchise movies about dogs, it clocked in below Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta! but slightly above Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch. But there was at least one thing about yesterday that wasn’t dumb, and that was the performance of Mike Montgomery: Possible Bullpen Ace. MiMo pitched two scoreless innings, the seventh and the eighth, and gave up no hits, one walk, and struck out four, striking out the side in the seventh and making Prince Fielder look like Sam from Quantum Leap had just shown up in his body, right in time to watch a filthy curveball drop in for a called strike three. MiMo only needed 27 pitches to buzzsaw through the top half of the Rangers’ lineup. Let’s take a closer look at them, shall we?
Back in November, Brendan (who should just be given a team to run already; maybe the Padres?) made a case for putting Montgomery in the bullpen with the prediction that he could add at least a tick—or maybe three—to his fastball, which last year hung out at about 91 mph. Yesterday Montgomery’s fastball, which he threw 19 times, averaged 93.7, and even touched 95.5 mph. His other pitches picked up some velocity as well: his changeup was up from 81 to 83 mph; the single cutter he threw was two ticks higher than his 2015 average; and his curveball was up to 77.8, well over the 75.2 he threw last season. Last year, MiMo threw his changeup 20% of the time; yesterday, he used the curveball as his put-away pitch, often peppering the zone with mid-90s fastballs before dropping in a curve that fooled batters badly, inducing a swinging strike three from DeShields, a called strike three for Fielder, and after the curve failed to get Choo out, he came right back with an 88 mph cutter for a called strike three. Montgomery mixed pitch speeds in a way that made for what would be a very exciting electrocardiogram:
Left handed batters feasted on Montgomery last year, slashing .303/.380/.461, while righties managed .245/.323/.402; however, a BABIP of .368 for lefties suggests this split might not be so dire this year, especially in limited action. Yesterday, Montgomery faced four lefties and three righties. The righties he dispensed of easily, striking out DeShields and Desmond while getting Beltre to pop out on a first-pitch fastball, but he also struck out two of the lefty batters (Choo and Fielder), while walking Moreland and getting Odor to ground out. Look at this number he does on Choo:
Montgomery worked that upper-left corner of the strike zone like he was paying rent on it, locating his put-out pitch there three separate times for strikeouts. Given the questions surrounding his ability to command his pitches, this certainly looks like an improvement.
One game does not a bullpen ace make, of course, but the numbers are trending in the right direction for Montgomery. If MiMo keeps pitching like this while Furbush languishes on the DL, he might find himself a rising star in a bullpen that’s still searching for an identity.