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Cubs

Mike Montgomery wanted to be a part of a big league rotation. He’s getting that opportunity, and he is very much making the most of it.

Montgomery turned in his third straight strong performance while filling the spot on the Cubs’ starting staff vacated when Yu Darvish went on the disabled list. Darvish is still on the shelf with no announced date for his return. Meanwhile, Montgomery has an ERA of 1.02 in three starts, an ERA that actually went up Friday despite six innings of one-run ball in a 3-1 win.

In a season where Cubs starters have been the cause of much consternation, Montgomery’s three consecutive outings of one or zero runs have been just what the doctor ordered.

“It’s very large for us,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “We needed the pick-me-up, he’s provided it. He is demonstrating to us and the industry what he’s all about.

“What he’s showing right now is how good he actually is.”

Montgomery has been a spot starter for the Cubs for three seasons now, though he made waves this past offseason when his desire to be a starter instead of a fill-in option out of the bullpen became a lot more public during the Winter Meetings. With Montgomery seemingly ready to finally receive a spot in the Cubs’ rotation, the Cubs inked Darvish on the first day of spring training, and Montgomery was sent back to the bullpen.

But injuries happen, and the Cubs knew Montgomery would make more starts. What they might not have known was that he’d be an incredibly effective starter despite a rough season of relief. Montgomery’s splits are dramatic. That 1.02 ERA as a starter contrasts sharply with a 5.33 ERA in 18 relief appearances.

 

“I’m definitely for the challenge of whatever the role is,” Montgomery said Friday. “I’ve prepared in my mind always to be a starter. It’s fun, going out there and getting a chance to start, at home, great crowd.”

“That’s one of the tenants, I want our guys to speak their mind,” Maddon said. “If that’s what you feel, don’t hold it back. Say it straight forwardly, and then let’s talk about it. I love that. He’s been that guy for a couple years, we just haven’t had that opportunity for him. My advice back to him was just stay ready. ‘When that opportunity arises you need to be ready to take advantage of it.’ He has. … This doesn’t surprise me, what he’s doing.”

The mystery surrounding Darvish’s eventual return figures to extend this opportunity for Montgomery, and if his performances keep looking like this, it could continue the good news for the Cubs, who in part due to better starting pitching have won 10 of 12 and were tied atop the National League Central standings following Friday’s win.

The Cubs seem to have their starting rotation filled for not just this season but the next several seasons thanks to the offseason additions of Darvish, Tyler Chatwood and Drew Smyly to a group that already featured Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. But should Montgomery keep pitching like this, he’ll eventually wind up in a big league rotation somewhere.

“He said he wanted to at the beginning of the year, and he’s showing why,” third baseman Kris Bryant said. “I love it when guys say they want something and then go prove that they can do it. He’s showing exactly why.”