How is it that a major league pitcher can lose his best pitch without warning, and then just as suddenly find it again months later? Mysteries abound in all of baseball, but this is what happened to Yankees prized rookie pitcher in 2017, Jordan Montgomery.
We know because Yogi Berra told us, that baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical. What we don’t understand, however, is why so much of the game is surrounded by this thing called “feel.” How one day a hitter can show up at the ballpark and the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand looks as big as a beachball, causing an uptick in production unseen from the player. Just as assuredly, though, the same player will drift into a 2-24 slump with thirteen strikeouts, finding himself the most prominent topic of conversation and non-stop intervention from the team’s batting guru.
We saw a glaring example of this phenomenon last season from Aaron Judge who waltzed into Miami for the All-Star Game coming off a sizzling first-half, won the Home Run Derby going away, only to plunge into one of the most prolonged slumps ever seen in major league baseball. What happened? It’s his shoulder, he’s just plain tired and needs a rest, or maybe he should be sent to Triple-A for a week to sort things out. Then Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, said no, he’s my guy, and I’m sticking with him as Judge suddenly “found” himself, taking off on a torrid September, jettisoning his team into the playoffs. Go figure.
Pitchers tend to be less prone to slumps, but they do occur as was the case with Jordan Montgomery last season when he hit a wall in July which threatened his removal from the starting rotation (see his month-to-month splits here). At the time, the prevailing wisdom accounting for his decline was thought to be the extra mileage being put on his arm, and he was just plain tired.
Come to find out though, most of Montgomery’s trouble came from the gradual loss of his best pitch, the change-up. Where it went, no one knows. But one thing Montgomery did understand is there was no way he was going to be able to carry on with his career with the Yankees, or possibly anywhere else, with a two-seamer hitting 92 on the gun and his curveball. He needed that out-pitch back, yesterday.
Dan Martin, from the New York Post, caught up with Montgomery at the opening of the Yankees Spring Training camp in Tampa, where Montgomery explained wistfully:
Here today and gone tomorrow, but as Montgomery also added, “It’s (his changeup) just a pitch you’ve got to keep throwing.” And so he did, and so he will. But what Montgomery is hinting at, while not saying it directly, is the “Yogism” referred to earlier. And how confidence in your ability at this level can outweigh all else. Montgomery himself admits he “panicked” last year, which is not something unexpected from a rookie, especially someone who is pitching before sell-out crowds at Yankee Stadium.
The exciting news, though, is that Jordan Montgomery appears to have figured all of this out by himself. And for a player who just turned 25 in December, that tells the Yankees and us more than we need to know about what makes Montgomery tick.
With the Yankees rumored to (still) be in the hunt for another starting pitcher, Montgomery can count to five and realize he would most probably be the odd-man out if indeed Brian Cashman makes a move in that direction. Montgomery counters by saying, “I always try to work as hard as I can and treat it like nothing’s guaranteed.’’
If another confidence boost is needed, Montgomery might just ask himself how many people knew his name (even) at this time last year?
So who knows, it just might be Montgomery will prove himself equal to the hype that he is the next Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees. As a lefty the team sorely needs to balance out the rotation, Yankees fans can only hope Montgomery kicks it up a notch in 2018, with no hiccups in between.
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