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."
[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]
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."