Frankie Montas was productive for the Oakland Athletics in his first year as a more-or-less full-time starter with the club last season.
In 13 games (11 starts) in a beleaguered and injury-plagued rotation, Months went a respectable 5-4 with a 3.88 ERA in 65 innings. The former White Sox prospect had come a long way since his 23-relief appearance 2017, when his ERA was a sky-high 7.03.
This offseason, Montas added a split-finger fastball, and along with upping his velocity to 97 mph, not only earned plaudits from the organization, but a new role in it. As the rain came down on Oracle Park before the second game of the 2019 Bay Bridge Series on Monday, A’s manager Bob Melvin named Montas the club’s No. 4 starter.
“Frankie Montas will pitch fourth for us, and rightfully so,” Melvin said. “He’s had a terrific spring, pitched well, whether he’s starting a game or whether he was piggybacking with somebody, he’s continued pitching the same, the entire spring, with some pressure on him, knowing that he had to win a job. Proud of him, and he deserves to be in the rotation.”
Montas was told about his assignment before Monday’s game, fresh off of his three no-hit innings of relief on Sunday.
“He was excited, but I think he expected it, as he should have,” Melvin said. “The way he pitched, he deserved to be on the team. He’s a confident kid, so I don’t think it surprised him.”
After Montas’s Sunday appearance, starter Brett Anderson — who will pitch third after Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada — didn’t mince his words in praise of Montas.
“He was disgusting, his split-finger was gross,” Anderson said. “If he stays in the strike zone, he has a chance to be special.”
Montas featured a 90-mph slider and was able to change speeds effectively against the San Francisco Giants, but the main attraction was the splitter, which he tinkered with last season, before refining it with pitching coach Scott Emerson. The splitter sat between 85 and 88, and got a total of seven swings and misses.
“I think what’s made him kind of who he is now is adding the split-finger, and being a true three-pitch mix guy with the slider, and having command of all those pitches,” Melvin said. “He’s a little bit of a different guy that we’ve seen the last couple years … He started this year. He might have been tinkering with it a little bit at the end of last year, but this year, kind of came full-circle with it, and it’s been a big pitch for him.”
In five games this spring, Montas has thrown 16 innings, scattered 11 hits and struck out 16, all while allowing just a single earned run.
The decision of who will throw fifth in the rotation, following Fiers, Estrada, Anderson and Montas, is still yet to be made. It will either be Aaron Brooks or Chris Bassitt, both of whom will pitch on Tuesday.
“We’re not there yet,” Melvin said. “We will at some point.”
Monday’s slate of pitchers will be a bit more varied, as Melvin said he could throw up to nine one-inning guys, including opener Liam Hendriks. The longest any pitcher will go will likely be two innings.
The A’s brought prospect Austin Beck with them to the Bay Area. He’s 1-for-7 in eight spring training games, but the 2017 first-round pick hit .296 with 29 doubles and 60 RBIs in 123 games with Single-A Beloit last season.
Twenty-three-year-old 2017 competitive balance-round pick Kevin Merrell was also brought out for the series, after hitting 3-for-5 with the big club in 10 spring training games this season. Merrell, a shortstop, hit .291 between rookie, short-season and high-A last season, spending the bulk of 2018 with Single-A Stockton, where he hit .267 with three triples and 24 RBIs, along with 38 runs scored.
“[Playing in the Bay Bridge Series] is huge for these guys, and we try to do that every year,
Melvin said. “Merrill’s here, too, and to be able to play in these games, this is big for them. This is as close as they’ve come to the big leagues ever, and when you play in ballparks like this, against the Giants, like yesterday, where there were some people in the crowd, it’s just kind of a taste for these guys of what it’s going to look like, so we try to get guys like him here, and he deserves to be here. He had a really good year last year, and I think in his second full year, we expect big things out of him, he was a first-round pick.”
On the other side of the diamond, the Giants switched their pitching up, moving Drew Pomeranz (Monday’s slated starter) to Tuesday, to split the first chunk of the game with Jeff Samardzija. Shaun Anderson will start Monday, followed by Will Smith, Reyes Moronta and Ty Blach. On Tuesday, following Samardzija and Pomeranz, Sam Dyson and Mark Melancon will pitch, along with righty Nick Vincent and lefty Travis Bergen.