A year ago, Mark Montgomery reported to his first big league spring training as a relatively high-profile prospect. His bullpen numbers through Double-A had been so overwhelming he was generating Dave Robertson comparisons, and it seemed only a matter of time before Montgomery broke into the big leagues and began working his way through the ranks. It seemed entirely possible that by this point, he’d been in the mix for a late-inning role in New York.
Instead, Montgomery reported to big league camp this spring relatively unnoticed. It’s Preston Claiborne and Dellin Betances who have been assigned lockers with the big leaguers. Montgomery’s spot is still in the middle of the clubhouse with the other minor league guys.
And he’s oddly thankful to be there.
“I think I grew up a lot last year, learning that baseball’s not going to be just handed over,” Montgomery said. “You’re not going to be successful 100 percent of the time. I’d done fairly well throughout the minors, and I didn’t have bad numbers in Scranton, but it wasn’t numbers that I was accustomed to. I think it taught me that you’ve got to learn to pitch, you’re not going to blow everything by people. I’m grateful, and I’ve definitely grown up and I think I’ve definitely become a smarter pitcher.”
Dealing with a sore shoulder, Montgomery pitched 40 Triple-A innings last season but spent significant time on the disabled list. He had a 3.38 ERA with 49 strikeouts, but those numbers were nothing compared to the 1.54 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 13.8 strikeouts-per-nine he’d posted the year before. In retrospect, diminished velocity early in the season — even though he was having tremendous success in the beginning — was a sign of things to come. Roughly a month into the year, Montgomery’s shoulder began to hurt. He would later be diagnosed with bursitis, which basically meant significant inflammation that was impacting everything he threw.
Montgomery, though, felt like the big leagues were only a phone call away, so he tried to pitch through it. The Yankees eventually shut him down as his numbers slipped.
“I’m grateful for what happened,” Montgomery said. “If I went up and wasn’t (fully healthy), I’d be in a lot worse position now than I am. Going up there and not pitching well would have been way worse.”
Today, Montgomery feels strong again. He stayed in Tampa throughout the offseason, changing his workouts to improve flexibility. He’s not as “muscle-bound,” but he still pitches the same way and said he’s felt renewed power through his bullpens.
“I still come in with the same expectations, that I’m here to try to make a spot and here to pitch well,” Montgomery said. “But I think it’s a much better feeling knowing that I’m healthy and all that’s behind me and I can just move forward. … I’m still the same pitcher I was. I think I’m just back to where I was as opposed to having an injury and having that in the back of my head. Hopefully you’re going to see my numbers go back to what I’m used to and how I’m capable of pitching.”
· Eduardo Nunez played in just five winter league games this offseason. He chose instead to focus on training, spending much of his winter with Robinson Cano working on all aspects of the game. The games he did play in the Dominican Winter League were designed to help him practice his timing. He’d been working on not rushing his throws, and he wanted to play in a few games to practice his timing adjustments in a live setting.
· Random clubhouse observation: Dean Anna’s name is printed into the back of his spikes. The left foot says “Anna” but the right says “Dino.” Anna said he’s always gone by Dino. So, in this spring of changing names, feel free to call Dean Anna, “Dino.”
· Speaking of Nunez and Anna, yesterday Joe Girardi made a reference to a game that Derek Jeter plays with the other shortstops during fielding drills. Nunez explained that Jeter keeps track of errors during the drills, except that whenever he makes an error himself, he likes to blame either the coach who’s hitting the fungos or the coach who’s manning first base. He always has an error-free session, while the other guys are subject to his own scrutiny of perfect throws and flawless scoops. It’s all in good fun, the veteran messing with the young guys. “It’s alright,” Nunez said. “Only one more year.”
· Anna’s take on Jeter’s scoring system: “You’ve got to go with it. It’s like, ‘Ok.’ It’s definitely fun, though.”
· We have our first sim game of the spring: David Phelps threw one this morning. He pitched to John Ryan Murphy and faced Mason Williams and Jose Pirela.
· Jorge Posada showed up this morning. He’s in camp as a guest instructor.
· Started raining just a few minutes ago, so the Yankees have moved today’s workout inside. That’s true for the pitchers, anyway. I suppose there’s a chance things will dry up enough for the position players to still get outside and go through some fielding drills. I’ll list everything as it was originally intended. We’ll see whether all of this actually happens.
· Early bullpens:
Got these in before the rain
Shane Greene (to Gary Sanchez)
Bryan Mitchell (to Pete O’Brien)
Nik Turley (to Francisco Arcia)
Francisco Rondon (to Austin Romine)
Vidal Nuno (to O’Brien)
Adam Warren (to Murphy)
Preston Claiborne (to Jose Gil)
Dave Robertson (to Francisco Cervelli)
· Live batting practice:
Scheduled to begin at 11:35 a.m.
Matt Thornton (to Cervelli)
Shawn Kelley (to McCann)
Matt Daley (to Gil)
Chris Leroux (to Gil)
Manny Banuelos (to O’Brien)
Cesar Cabral (to Romine)
Brian Gordon (to Sanchez)
Mark Montgomery (to Arcia)
· Infield drills:
Russ Canzler (1B), Corban Joseph (2B/1B), Brian Roberts (2B), Derek Jeter (SS), Scott Sizemore (3B/2B), Dean Anna (3B/2B), Zealous Wheeler (3B)
Mark Teixiera (1B), Jose Pirela (2B/3B), Yangervis Solarte (2B/SS), Brendan Ryan (SS), Eduardo Nunez (3B/SS), Kelly Johnson (3B)
· Batting practice groups:
Most of the catchers have moved to new groups
Group 1: Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez, Brian Roberts, Jose Gil
Group 2: Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan, Mark Teixeira, Francisco Cervelli
Group 3: Dean Anna, Russ Canzler, Scott Sizemore, Brian McCann
Group 4: Corban Joseph, Yangervis Solarte, Zealous Wheeler, John Ryan Murphy
Group 5: Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ichiro Suzuki, Gary Sanchez
Group 6: Zoilo Almonte, Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano, Pete O’Brien
Group 7: Tyler Austin, Antoan Richardson, Mason Williams, Austin Romine
Group 8: Ramon Flores, Adonis Garcia, Jose Pirela, Francisco Arcia
Associated Press photos