A's starter Frankie Montas had it all going his way last summer. A 9-2 record, including five consecutive wins, and a virtual ticket to the 2019 All-Star Game as of June 20.
The next day, Montas was handed an 80-game suspension by MLB after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
In the months that followed, Montas kept himself in physical playing shape. But struggled with the mental anguish.
“I ain’t going to lie, I think I went three and a half weeks without watching a baseball game,” Montas said during an interview with NBC Sports California on Feb. 20 in Mesa, Arizona. “I wasn’t there, but, supporting my boys from the house. I missed it.”
“That was a dark place for him,” manager Bob Melvin said in February. “To have to go through that and watch his team succeed, a guy that was so important to us over the course of the first half.”
The A's didn't allow Montas' suspension to derail their 2019 season, though. Instead, they found steam from separate places starting in mid-June, and still managed to hit the 97-win mark by the end of the season. Montas says he was proud of how teammates responded to the adversity, but the individual lesson wasn’t lost.
“I did learn a lot last year,” Montas said about being instantly removed from his job. “Being able to miss it, that woke me up. Like, you’re playing this for something. This is not just for you, but for your family, and the fans. It just makes you appreciate the game a little more, and love a little more too.”
And now the focus turns to 2020. Montas was officially named the A's Opening Day starter by Melvin on Saturday, and he will headline an elite rotation Oakland hasn’t seen in decades.
“I’ve always thrown hard, had a good arm,” Montas said in February. “The thing for me was to try and control it. Through my progression in the minor leagues, I was wild, was not a guy to go out and throw strikes. I’d walk five or six people. Trying to limit walks was a big challenge for me, and stepping up my game.”
[RELATED: Making case for Montas as Cy Young winner]
Montas says there’s no personal need to prove himself, and that his performance from last season is exactly where he’d like to continue from.
“He’s as driven as he’s ever been, and he’s smiling every day,” Melvin said. “He’s happy to be here and the guys embrace him, they understand he made a mistake. There’s always second chances, and he’s handling himself beautifully right now.”