Cubs’ Montgomery still on standby for first start of the year


CINCINNATI — Chicago Cubs lefty Mike Montgomery will have to wait to get his first start of the year, but for how long? Montgomery was scheduled to pitch one game of the Cubs’ doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, but a rainout Thursday in Atlanta changed the team’s plans.

During the winter, he publicly expressed his interest in starting, and the Cubs openly stated that he would get his chances this year. A heavy schedule or poor performances by others could eventually give him that opportunity.

Even as Montgomery was scratched from his start, his manager had high praise for him.

“Right now, I think he’s throwing the ball as well as I’ve seen him in a Cubs uniform,” Maddon said.

Montgomery had a slow start to the season, but in his past seven appearances out of the bullpen, opponents are hitting .121 off him with an OPS of just .384.

“I like the way I’m throwing the ball right now,” Montgomery said. “Whether it’s starting or relieving, I’m going to continue to stay in that mindset.”

It’s silly to think Montgomery would ever replace Yu Darvish (5.56 ERA) or Jose Quintana (5.23 ERA) in the rotation, but if there comes a time when they need an extra day or even one of those fake stints on the 10-day DL, Montgomery will be the man. That is, unless, the Cubs call on their one elite pitching prospect, Adbert Alzolay. He has done well at Triple-A and represents hope for Cubs brass, as they’ve failed to develop any pitching talent over the years.

As for Montgomery, he wants to be ready when the chance comes, making it an easy decision for Maddon & Co.

“I have to put myself in that position to be in the conversation,” Montgomery said. “I think I’ve done that the last couple weeks. I want to keep doing that going forward. That’s what I’m focused on.”

If Montgomery can stay away from walks, he’ll give himself a good chance to succeed. Of course, Darvish and Quintana could say the same thing. Maddon and Montgomery both claim they have a great relationship, and as much as the pitcher wants to be a starter, he isn’t going to rock the boat right now. He had his say in the offseason.

“My relationship with Joe is really good,” Montgomery said. “We can talk about things and even joke around about roles. That’s pretty unique.”

Maddon was able to blame Mother Nature for Montgomery losing out on his first start of the season, but at some point, the Cubs will more than likely add him to the mix, as they did last season, when he had 14 starts. That might not happen for a while, though.

“I know he’s young, but he’s getting beyond just being young,” Maddon said. “You get a little eager at that point, but the best I can do is stay in touch with him. … The thing I wanted him to know, more than anything, is I think he’s throwing the ball as well as I’ve seen him.”

The Cubs don’t have a lot beyond Montgomery and Alzolay, so keeping both ready in case of injuries is the smart move. The man who saved Game 7 of the 2016 World Series is waiting for his chance — which is likely to come this season — but he’s trying not to let it take over his thinking.

“The last few weeks has changed my mindset,” Montgomery said. “If you let other things get in the way, the next thing you know, your opportunity is there, and then you’re really not pitching well enough to get it.”

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