MINNEAPOLIS -- Though his legs shook, Frankie Montas had no trouble challenging a very hot hitter in his major league debut on Wednesday night.
Pitching in relief for the first time all season, the White Sox rookie ended his first at-bat with a strikeout of Miguel Sano, who earlier Wednesday was named the American League rookie of the month.
A starter at Double-A Birmingham all season, Montas doesn’t care if he pitches in the rotation or the bullpen with the White Sox. His debut came in the eighth inning of a game the White Sox lost 3-0 and Montas responded with a scoreless inning.
“If you are in the bullpen, closer or a starter, you have to go out there and compete,” Montas said. “You have to do your best. I feel like I’m going to do whatever they want me to do. If they want me to be a starter, I’ll be a starter. If they want me in the bullpen, I’ll be in the bullpen.”
Opinions remain divided on what Montas may be in the long run. The White Sox used him as a starter this season and he pitched well at Birmingham in his first full season, going 5-5 with a 2.97 ERA in 23 starts. He struck out 108 batters in 112 innings and earned a spot in the Double-A All-Star game for the Southern League.
But whether or not he’s best suited as a starter remains to be seen. Some see Montas’ power arm as a great fit for the late innings. That belief has only been furthered by the development of the right-hander’s slider, the pitch he used to strike out Sano looking on a 3-2 count.
“Right now, I feel like my slider is my strikeout pitch,” Montas said. “Even though I have my fastball is a good pitch too, but I feel like my second best pitch is my slider.
“It’s progressed a lot. In spring training, I was throwing it but not how I wanted. Now I feel like I control more of how I want it.
“Just throwing it more in the game, practicing it a lot. It’s getting better.”
Improvement is all Montas thought about after his one-day promotion in July when he was the team’s 26th man during a double header against Kansas City.
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Montas said he wasn’t upset to not be used but used it as motivation, a carrot at the end of the stick. Between that and big league camp, Montas feels more comfortable in the clubhouse and looks forward to getting his chance to pitch.
“I wasn’t disappointed,” Montas said. “Actually I was happy that even though I didn’t get to pitch, I felt really excited when I was here. Now I feel like a big league game, how it is. How it’s like being in the bullpen and like so many emotions you are feeling in the bullpen, like they are going to call you and say, ‘Hey Montas is going to be in the game.’ It was a good experience. I don’t feel any disappointing about not pitching. I’m just happy they gave me an opportunity to be here.”
White Sox manager Robin Ventura was impressed with how Montas handled his showdown with Sano, who he’d faced previously in the minors.
“It’s nice to see him get out there and start seeing some good hitters,” Ventura said.
“We need to get him in the bullpen and get him acclimated.”