OAKLAND — Frankie Montas has 101 minor league starts on his resumé, along with two in the Majors with the Chicago White Sox in 2015. After rib resection surgery cut short his 2016 season for the Oklahoma City Dodgers in Triple-A, he was not ready to take a starter’s load when he returned to the mound in 2017.
After being traded to the Oakland Athletics, Montas and his high-90s fastball made the team out of spring training. In 32 innings out of the bullpen, he posted a 7.03 ERA, before being sent back down to Triple-A in July.
On Sunday, after spending the first two months of the season with Nashville, Montas finally made it back to the Major Leagues as a starter. He didn’t disappoint, striking out seven Arizona Diamondbacks and throwing five no-hit innings, earning his first win as a big league starter with a 2-1 victory.
“We’ve been waiting for that,” said manager Bob Melvin. “Last year was more a product of the innings that he threw the year before. He’d been out for quite a while and didn’t throw too many innings … We really didn’t even envision him making the team out of spring last year, but he did. He pitched well, and we felt like he could be a reliever, but all along, we felt like he has the stuff to be a starter.”
“I felt good,” Montas said through an interpreter. “Everything was working for me, and the fastball command was really good for me today.”
Montas — who signed with the Boston Red Sox at age 16 in 2009 — had bounced around four organizations before heading to the mound on Sunday, always coming with a blazing fastball that often reached triple digits. He came to the A’s in the Josh Reddick trade with the Dodgers in August of 2016, but wasn’t ready to throw, and certainly not ready to return as a starter. After he was sent down following the bullpen experiment in 2017, he began honing hesitation moves in his delivery, altering the timing from pitch to pitch, and working on his sinking two-seam fastball.
Montas started the season slow, going 0-3 with a 6.19 ERA in April, but in his first three May outings, he allowed just four earned runs in 20 innings. His last start before Oakland, though, was his worst, as he allowed five runs on seven hits in five innings against his former Oklahoma City teammates. The A’s, though, still viewed him as a future starter, so when they needed to give Trevor Cahill an extra day of rest, Montas got the call.
“I was a little nervous, but I kept telling myself that this is the opportunity I’ve been wanting,” Montas said. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, was be a starter.”
On Sunday, Montas overwhelmingly used his four-seam and sinking two-steam fastballs, throwing them on 62 of his 82 pitches against a fastball-hunting Diamondbacks lineup while varying the timing delivery.
“High-90s, you’re talking really good movement on his sinker, just really good stuff,” said catcher Jonathan Lucroy. “We worked his change up in there, only threw it a couple times, but his slider was really good, and we used it to keep them off balance, but that fastball plays up pretty big … 97-mph sinker’s pretty nasty. His offspeed was good, we used it to get strikes early, late maybe chase.”
Montas held Arizona to three hits and two walks in six innings of work.
“That was as good a pitch mix as we’ve seen out of him, really since I’ve seen him,” Melvin said.
After working to hone his secondary stuff all season, the first hit he allowed, ironically, was on an 86-mph slider to Jeff Mathis, which he served on a line into center to lead off the sixth.
“[He threw] strikes right away, fastball velo is always going to be there for him,” Melvin said. “I thought his two-seamer was really good today, which he’s been working on. You don’t have to strike anybody out before two strikes, and learning to throw that pitch and get some early-count outs and some balls on the ground, and then his off-speed stuff was mixed in enough to keep them off balance and make his fastball play that much better.”
That hit — to lead off the sixth — opened the door for the Diamondbacks’ only run. A fielder’s choice by David Peralta erased Mathis, but he eventually came around to score on a Jake Lamb sacrifice fly to left.
That run equalled Lucroy’s first home run of the season — a 383-foot tater off the concrete steps in left in the third — that earned the eight-year veteran a 20-second silent treatment. The first man to break the spell? Montas, who extended his towel-wrapped right arm for a fist bump, and then a hug to backstop. Lucroy — who caught starter Zack Greinke over 40 times when they were both on the Brewers — is now 8-for-13 against Greinke in his career.
“I’ve seen him a lot over the years, faced him, he’s actually a pretty good friend of mine, too, so he hates it whenever I’m in the lineup against him,” Lucroy said.
The A’s added a second run on a two-out, two-on RBI single by Matt Chapman against Greinke in the bottom of the sixth, sending Montas out with a lead.
“I feel really comfortable [starting],” Montas said. “It’s something I’ve done my whole career, and it’s something that I want to do. Now that I’m commanding my fastball a little better, it’s something I’ve been working hard on … I feel like I’m staying calm, staying focused and trying to make good pitches.”
Once Montas and his 96-mph fastball exited, Oakland used Yusmeiro Petit for a shutout seventh, and Lou Trivino — with his 92-mph cutter and 98-mph fastball — for a 1-2-3 eighth, striking out two. Blake Treinen earned his 12th save of the season by pitching a 1-2-3 ninth, securing Montas’s first win as a Major League starter.Arizona Diamondbacksblake treinenfrankie montasjonathan lucroyLou TrivinoMLBOakland A'sOakland AthleticsYusmeiro PetitZack Greinke