Montgomery Still Has Room To Improve

Montgomery allowed just 9 base runners in May

TAMPA, FL – Mark Montgomery has thrived in the closer role for the Tampa Yankees this season. The numbers speak for themselves: 26.2 innings, 4-1, 1.35 ERA, eight saves, 14 hits allowed, nine walks allowed, 43 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.86. On paper, Montgomery looks solid; he looks even more impressive in person.

Montgomery only throws three pitches, and the changeup is a work in progress. His 92-95 MPH fastball mixed with his 84-86 MPH slider is a recipe for disaster for hitters.

"He has one of the best sliders I've ever seen," pitching coach Jeff Ware said. "He throws it two different ways; one side to side with a small tilt, and the other is a big hard one with depth and late tilt. When he's throwing that, it's pretty much un-hittable."

43 strikeouts in 26.2 innings is impressive, even to Ware.

"I've never seen anybody strike people out like he is right now," Ware said with a smile. "We're trying to get him to command his fastball right now. The slider is there, but if you can't command the fastball, big-league hitters can sit on the slider."

Montgomery, 21, has already drawn comparisons to Yankees' setup man David Robertson.

"They've been saying that since last year," Montgomery said. "Mainly because of body type and because we both have a late sneaky fastball, which I could see the comparison there. He has the wipeout curveball and I have a slider that I use."

Ware isn't sure Montgomery is quite at Robertson's level yet.

"Mark still has some growth to get to Robertson," Ware said. "David Robertson's command is phenomenal. Mark's has already gotten better this year."

Robertson has great command, strikes many batters out, and does not allow many home runs. In 55 minor league innings, Montgomery has yet to allow a home run.

Montgomery's best pitch is his slider, but he can also throw his fastball for strikes. As long as he can control both pitches, he has a good chance of moving up the Yankees system fast, much like Robertson did a few years ago. Despite great success, Montgomery knows there is room for improvement.

"We've been working on fastball location and both sides of the plate and I've gotten a lot more comfortable with that," Montgomery said. "The changeup is a work in progress, but I've been getting more comfortable with that as well. I like using the changeup against lefties, and I'm just trying to get ahead with my fastball."

Coach Ware believes although there is room for growth for the changeup, it is already an effective weapon.

"People who know baseball know that the key to a good changeup is the arm speed, and Mark's arm speed is the same with his fastball and his changeup," Ware said. "It's a little firm [mid 80's], but it has some fade and a little bit of deception."

Montgomery has been able to handle the pressure of closing games, which all players cannot handle.

"I like getting the ball in the 9th," he said. "I started closing my sophomore year in college and I feel comfortable at it."

Although he loves closing, Montgomery stated he would be comfortable in any role asked of him, especially if he moves to an upper level of play.

"Wherever I am, I just want to try and help my team get wins," Montgomery said.

Montgomery saw a little action with the big-league club in spring training, when he surrendered a walk-off homerun to Mets first baseman Ike Davis.

"I was working on my slider up there and I was in my rut of not really locating my pitches well, but it was a great experience," Montgomery said.

If he can continue throwing that nasty slider for strikes, locate his fastball wherever he wants to, keep it up around the low to mid 90's, and keep developing his changeup, Mark Montgomery could become a household name sometime soon.

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