A couple months ago, Larry gave Frankie Montas a 35-percent chance of sticking as a starter long enough to earn a spot in the White Sox' rotation.
After five largely encouraging relief outings followed by a rough starting debut Wednesday against the Tigers, Montas didn't exactly make a case for better odds. It could be even more lopsided if you only looked at his line (3 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB (1 BB), 3 K, 1 HR) or his pitch mix (all fastballs and sliders).
Watching him throw, though... it seemed like the same stuff on a different day could've yielded vastly different results. Montas didn't get much in the way of beginner's luck, outside of this diving catch from Melky Cabrera on James McCann's line drive in the second inning:
Here are the things that worked against him:
A net-loss strike zone: This isn't to blame Geovany Soto ... yet. This was Soto's first time working with Montas, who throws hard and isn't command-oriented, so I assume there's some kind of adjustment period. Soto also had to respond to bluffing runners, which spoiled the chance for a few borderline pitches to go Montas' way. And maybe he wouldn't have gotten them regardless. Apparently home plate umpire Tom Woodring called a pretty stiff strike zone, as you'll see at the end of this post.
A Soto error: You can blame Soto for trying to pick Rajai Davis off second, only to bounce it, hit him with the throw, allow both runners to advance, and compel Robin Ventura to order an intentional walk to load the bases.
Soft-rock hits: Of the six hits Montas allowed, one of them was a blooped single to shallow left. Another one was an infield single that a sliding Alexei Ramirez couldn't corral (a non-declining Ramirez might not have had to leave his feet). Another one was a jam-shot pop-up that fell behind the usual second baseman's position, which happened to be vacated because it was a hit-and-run. And the other was a line-drive single that went in and out of Mike Olt's glove. That's an unusual amount of misfortune crammed into three innings, so it was heartening to see Montas stay aggressive (only one unintentional walk) and let the chips fall where they may.
That said, the two other hits he gave up -- a two-run Victor Martinez homer and a two-run J.D. Martinez double -- were pretty much entirely on Montas.
Regarding the homer, it wasn't the worst 1-0 pitch, and Victor Martinez got just enough of it to hit it the shortest way out of the park ...
.... but it was the second of two fastballs, and both were 94 mph. Since Montas didn't throw a single changeup, it stands to reason that 94 mph on the inner half isn't going to look all that imposing to a good hitter if he's expecting 98. Perhaps Montas went without throwing a third pitch because he knew he was only going to face the order twice, but the fact that he hasn't yet thrown one in any of his outings suggests it isn't an asset.
The J.D. Martinez double, on the other hand, was the result of plain ol' poor execution. On a 2-1 count, Montas rolled a high slider. Fortunately, Martinez didn't anticipate the speed, and he ended up getting out and around it and pulling it well foul.
Then Montas threw him the same exact pitch, and Martinez was done with the mercy thing:
Montas hung two consecutive sliders to a guy with 37 homers, so any outcome that doesn't end up in a 38th homer is considered lucky.
Overall, though, Montas deserved at least a little bit better than what he got, so I wouldn't mind seeing how much bad luck his style of pitching attracts over a couple more starts. It sounds like Robin Ventura has at least one more in mind, and Montas took the lumps from this one in stride.
"I feel like it was not much different," Montas said. "I feel good. I was throwing the ball and things didn’t go like I wanted. It’s part of the game. A lot of things happen in the game. It’s part of the game."
He handled adversity more gracefully than Justin Verlander. After Verlander gave up a two-run homer to Cabrera in the fourth inning, you could hear him chewing out Woodring, apparently for the walk to Trayce Thompson the batter before. The broadcasters' calls on both feeds limited Verlander's tirade to background noise, but fortunately the condensed game on MLB.com only uses the park audio, so you can hear his opening salvo as well as anything else going on.
Jump to 6:22 -- as soon as the ball clears the fence, Verlander vents:
Goddammit Tom! Let's go, man! You are so f---ing tight with me, it's unreal, bro! You only [indecipherable] grooved pitches!
Verlander eventually gets close enough to Woodring that he can curse him out in a more conversational tone under his glove, but you can still hear some f-bombs and complaining about having to throw it down the middle. Fun stuff, and it's even more fun because none of the balls to Thompson were particularly close to being strikes.
But Verlander's always had the red ass, and it probably helps make him great. Once Montas' awe period ends, it wouldn't hurt for him to contract a touch of it himself.