Major League Baseball shut down in mid-March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
A’s right-hander Frankie Montas did not. He kept throwing, kept training, kept pushing himself hard to improve upon last year’s excellent first-half form.
His Twitter followers saw snippets of what he was up to during the shutdown. He was lifting crazy weight, throwing bullpens and simulated games and once even hitting triple digits with his fastball.
That’s why it shocked no one that Montas was ahead of most everyone when the A’s reported to summer training camp last week at Oakland Coliseum.
“I was pretty built up,” Montas said. “I was going four innings in simulated games and live BP. Right now, I could probably go four or five innings. I feel like my arm is in shape. I was training the entire time in Arizona.”
This isn’t the first time Montas has been in Arizona largely by himself, waiting for a return to baseball. He experienced something similar after being suspended 80 games for violating the MLB policy on performance-enhancing drugs. It slammed the brakes on a 9-2 start with a 2.70 ERA over 90 innings.
Montas didn’t sulk over that difficult work stoppage. He grinded out bullpens and simulated games at the team’s Mesa, Ariz. training complex in hopes of making one regular-season start when the suspension lifted. He did so, pitched well but didn’t throw again after the A’s got eliminated in the wild-card playoff.
A’s manager Bob Melvin believes that period still fuels Montas’ motivation.
“I think part of it stems from him not being able to contribute much in the second half last year,” he said. “We got him back for one start last year and he contributed, but his focus was that he was going to be ready to come into camp this year. He was in spring training and certainly was in version 2.0. He’s pretty driven at this point.”
Montas followed a similar routine to his hiatus last year, albeit with some minor tweaks to account for the pandemic.
“I have a wife and a kid, and my wife is pregnant,” Montas said. “It’s hard for me to stay away from people but I tried to keep the distance while still being able to work and stay ready. It was the same strategy but different situations.”
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Montas found a weight room to train and a cage where he could throw to hitters and simulate game situations with the help of some tech. He also tinkered with his slider, refining variations that can either bite or sustain a greater loop. Add that to a devastating split-finger fastball he used to great effect in 2019. Oh, and his high-90s fastball can hit 100, as we saw on social media.
Yeah, he was firing triple digits to a high school kid.
“He was pretty good,” Montas said with a laugh. “Let’s give him some credit.”
Montas very well could be the A’s ace this season. The fact that isn’t already established speaks to the depth and talent around him in the rotation, but Melvin believes Montas is an upper-echelon pitcher as talented as most anyone.
“He’s electric,” Melvin said. “I’d match him up with anybody in our division, anybody really in the league right now. The trick is sustaining it and doing this for a longer period of time, but the fashion with which he’s throwing right now is pretty exciting.”