Mike Montgomery keeping things simple for Cubs: 'I felt like a pitcher again'

Mike Montgomery keeping things simple for Cubs: 'I felt like a pitcher again'

MESA, Ariz. – Mike Montgomery isn't fighting for a spot on the Cubs' 25-man roster when they break camp, but he still has plenty to prove.

If everybody is healthy, the Cubs will roll out Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey as their top four starting pitchers.

That leaves Montgomery and newcomer Brett Anderson fighting for the fifth spot and potentially sharing a hybrid role as a quasi-six-man rotation situation. 

However, with two off days in the first week — and five in the first month — of the regular season, the Cubs don't figure to have a strong need for a sixth starting pitcher much in April, even if they're aiming to give the rest of their starters a break after last season's deep run.

And with Anderson battling injuries so much throughout his career and Montgomery already comfortable pitching out of the bullpen, it would make the most sense to deploy Montgomery in the swingman role.

The 27-year-old lefty knows he can't get caught up worrying about where he stands on the pitching staff in April when it's still the first week of March.

"I feel good with how everything is," Montgomery said after starting and throwing one inning in the Cubs' 8-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Sloan Park Friday. "I'm gonna get ready to make good pitches, whether they want me to start or not.

"Just knowing that I'm on top of my game. Today felt good. I felt like a pitcher again. I can't control that kinda stuff and I know that. The team is gonna do what's best for the team. 

"If I'm at my best, I'm gonna help the team some way or another. So I'm just looking forward to keep getting out there, keep getting innings and whatever they want me to do."

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Montgomery admitted he wished he could've gotten at least one more inning in Friday's game, but he was forced to throw 31 pitches in the first thanks to a leadoff single by Jose Peraza that Cubs centerfielder Albert Almora Jr. misplayed into a two-base error.

"I had a little extra adrenaline — a guy on third and nobody out and I was trying to get out of it," Montgomery said. "It was good to have that situation. ... Just getting out of the stretch, different situations. The more you can do 'em, the more comfortable you're gonna feel."

Montgomery gave up an unearned run in the frame, but wound up striking out three, giving him five punchouts in two innings so far this spring.

"The biggest thing I was looking for — and I noticed a difference — is command was a lot better," he said. "Mechanics felt smoother and I had a couple bullpens in between. I threw a lot in between and definitely made a step forward in delivery, mechanics, consistency and started to see some of the misses a little smaller and a lot more around the plate, which is a good sign.

"Last time, it was a crapshoot where I was gonna throw the ball. It's early spring, so that's kind of expected. Just to get better from one outing to the next is a good sign."

Montgomery doesn't know when his next Cactus League outing will come, but he said he feels his arm conditioning getting better.

He threw more than 60 pitches in a bullpen earlier this week in an effort to get the feel back and he's encouraged about his prospects moving forward, even if he doesn't know how exactly he'll be deployed when the games start to count.

"[The bullpen session] was one of those days where I just said, 'I'm gonna get on the mound and keep throwing until I can find it,'" Montgomery said. "It could've been 20, it could've been 50 or 60. I was just gonna get out there and throw.

"I've always noticed my arm responds better to more throwing. Whether it's off the mound, in between, I like to get out there and throw a lot. And when the game comes, I have a better feel."

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

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None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”


Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

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Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."