Montgomery Showing Signs

Reliever Mark Montgomery was once one of the more feared bullpen arms in all of minor league baseball. Statistically he had a fine showing in 2013 but the stuff wasn't nearly as crisp. Numbers-wise he had another fine year in 2014 and while the stuff wasn't quite as dominant as it was two years ago, he did show signs late in the season of being that dominant reliever once again.

Just like he did a year ago in Triple-A, Mark Montgomery got off to a solid start with the Scranton RailRiders, posting a 3.03 ERA in his first 22 Triple-A appearances and allowing less hits [21] than innings pitched [29.2], and striking out better than a batter per inning pitched. He went on the disabled list on June 11th, however, and missed a month of the season.

"We had a right knee [injury], just a little fatigued, and I came back," Montgomery said. "Everything feels good now and I've been throwing the ball well."

He returned to the mound on July 11th, although this time with Double-A Trenton, and finished out the season in the Eastern League where he posted a tiny 0.83 ERA over his final 17 appearances, numbers reminiscent of his old dominating days.

"Everything's been really good," he said. "I started off slow [in Triple-A] -- obviously the walks killed me a little bit early. I think it was just a fact of getting out there and throwing more. Lately everything's been good and I've been back to what's been giving me success, and that's attacking guys and getting ahead with strike one."

Averaging nearly five and half walks per nine innings during his time in Triple-A over the past two seasons and many of them coming on four or five pitch walks, he began showing much better fastball command in Trenton over the second half of the season.

"Yeah everything is getting back," he opined. "The walks are starting to get cut down. I've had some 3-2 walks which hurt but that's more of a focus thing and staying aggressive in the counts. But everything's been good; the slider's been good. I've been getting lot of swings and misses. I think everything is coming back.

"It's still obviously mostly fastball-slider. I'm trying to get ahead with strike one and my attack pitch is obviously my slider. It's been a swing and miss pitch for me.

"I've thrown some changeups here and there [but] I think it's more of a work in progress thing. I've thrown a lot more than I used to just to have that in the back pocket and keep it guys' heads."

Despite the much better results in Trenton this year and showing numerical signs that he could be back to being the dominant pitcher he once was, the stuff is not quite fully back, although it is getting close.

Averaging 91-94 mph with his fastball two years ago, he saw his velocity dip down to the 88-89 mph range in Scranton a year ago and through his first couple of months in the International League this season. It did, however, creep back up to the low-90s range once again in the second-half with the Thunder.

"I think it's just a matter of throwing and building up arm strength " Montgomery said. "I've been mostly 90-91 mph [lately], actually the last [month]. That's a good sign. I think it's going to come. It's just an arm strength thing. At the end of the day all I can do is go out there and compete."

"It does have some life to it and he's getting some late swings [with the fastball]," Trenton pitching coach Tommy Phelps added. "It's just a matter of that coming back and he'll be able to dominate again like he did before."

Montgomery will be the first to admit that his 2013 campaign wasn't very good despite the solid results. He does, however, feel his game is slowly starting to get back to his once dominating days and that has him and his coaches very encouraged for next season and beyond.

"He's been better," Phelps said. "His slider has been more consistent and the big thing was getting that angle back to his fastball downhill. He's been doing a lot better commanding his fastball and keeping it down in the zone."

"I think we're moving in the right direction," Montgomery added. "I just think working hard and staying out there and pitching like I'm capable of, I think it's coming back, yes. There have been signs that it is back and now it's just a matter of getting out there and replicating it."

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