Mike Montgomery is at peace with the likelihood he will open the season in the Cubs bullpen.
But in the event Montgomery is summoned to the rotation – his preference – the 6-foot-5 left-hander believes he’s more equipped to succeed in either role.
Montgomery said a tweak in his delivery that run prevention coordinator Tommy Hottovy suggested could correct the occasional control lapses that have hindered his effectiveness.
“It’s amazing the technology and information we get,” said Montgomery, who will start today against the Padres at Peoria Sports Complex. “I had no idea. We’ll see how hitters react to it.”
Hottovy, 36, who pitched for the Red Sox and Royals in 2011-12, saw on video that Montgomery’s stride was longer and his arm angle lower in 2017 than it was in 2016 – his breakthrough season that motivated the Cubs to acquire him from the Mariners.
Montgomery has noticed that by taking a shorter stride, he’s able to stay vertical through an overhand delivery and put a sharper break on his curve and his other pitches.
“I was told my stride was longer on certain pitches, especially the curve,” Montgomery said. “I need that pitch sharp to get more swings and misses. That’s the age of baseball we’re getting into. I’ve been able to apply it this spring.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot when playing catch, and it has transitioned when I’ve been throwing my bullpens. I’ll continue to get stretched out and see how it shakes out while going through the normal soreness of spring training.”
As long as Montgomery is assigned to the bullpen, which seems likely with the current five starters remaining healthy and effective, he believes he’ll need the curve as a strikeout weapon to complement his four-seam fastball.
“One of the things I conveyed [to the coaching staff] is that sometimes I’ll need to be more of a sinker/contact [starter] than a four-seam/curve guy,” Montgomery said. “Because if I need a double play, I’ll have the ability to get the grounder. Or if I need a strikeout, I’ll have the [curve]. I did more of that in 2016.”
Montgomery posted a 2.10 ERA with only two home runs allowed in 42 relief appearances in 2016, and had a 3.38 ERA in seven starts with the Mariners and Cubs. But his lack of sharpness was evident out of the bullpen in 2017, when he walked 34 in 61 1/3 innings.
Montgomery’s knack for performing well in spot starts increases his value to the Cubs. He allowed one run in 13 innings in consecutive starts against the Reds and Pirates while filling in for the injured Jon Lester in late August.
“If you don’t have depth, you ain’t going to the dance and playing in that last game,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He supplies all that.”
Any disappointment over the likelihood of not opening the season as a starter has virtually vanished because of the Cubs’ efforts to make Montgomery a more effective pitcher regardless of his role.
“I’m comfortable here and I’m getting better because of how good they are with pitching,” Montgomery said. “It’s been fun for me.”