Former Sumter High School, Sumter P-15's and University of South Carolina standout left-handed pitcher Jordan Montgomery just completed his first half-season as a member of the New York Yankees.
Through 17 starts (this includes Montgomery starting the Yankees' game against Boston on Friday, their first after the All-Star break), Montgomery is 6-4 with a 3.78 earned run average in 95 1/3 innings pitched. He's allowed 90 hits, 44 runs, 40 earned runs, 14 home runs and has struck out 90 compared to 31 walks.
The Bronx Bombers' No. 5 starter talked via phone with The Sumter Item sports writer Justin Driggers for a question and answer segment about his first experiences as a Major League pitcher:
SI: Are you enjoying the All-Star break?
JM: Yeah it's good to be home; good to get out of New York and relax and not worry about baseball.
SI: Did you watch your teammates in Monday's Home Run Derby?
JM: Yeah Gary (Sanchez) and (Aaron) Judge killed it. Of course, Judge won and Gary knocked out (Giancarlo) Stanton. It was cool watching them out there having fun.
SI: What's this season been like for you as a whole?
JM: It's been cool. I've just tried to take in everything and enjoy it. I just try to bring what I can for the team. Not try to do to much. Just trust my stuff and do what I've been doing my whole life.
SI: When did you find out you'd been named the fifth starter, and what were the emotions after that?
JM: They told me three days before (the season started). I threw a bullpen and then had an off day so I went up to the field then threw the next day. I was excited and relieved. All the years of hard work and throwing through arm pain; just everything finally leading to being in the big leagues.
SI: What was it like to step out on the mound at Yankee Stadium for the first time (April 12 vs. Tampa Bay)?
JM: I was pretty nervous. I was a little bored sitting around at first and then really anxious. You're throwing in the bullpen and you hear them calling out the lineup and then you hear "Making his Major League debut, Jordan Montgomery.'' It kind of sets in then and you get goosebumps. I just tried to get on the mound and forget everything else and get locked in and get in my rhythm.
I struck the first two guys out and had Longo (Evan Longoria) where I wanted him (down 0-2 in count), then lost him and gave up a 2-run homer (to Rickie Weeks Jr.) So it will catch up on you quickly if you don't get locked in.
SI: What's the biggest difference pitching in the majors as opposed to Triple-A?
JM: Guys just don't miss. If you make a mistake in Triple-A, it might be a double or they might sit on it or swing through it. But I feel like in the big leagues, if you make three mistakes in the middle of the plate, it's going to be at least two homers. You can't miss middle.
SI: You got your first win in your second start (April 17 vs. Chicago White Sox). What was the feeling like of getting that first W in the big leagues?
JM: It was good. I kind of settled in and wasn't as nervous that game. I went 6 2/3 against the White Sox and they're a pretty good team so it was cool to get that one out of the way.
SI: What was it like batting for the time in the majors (April 23 at Pittsburgh vs. Ivan Nova)?
JM: I just tried to look as comfortable as I could. I didn't want to look too nervous or anything so I tried to simplify as much as I could. I knew Nova was going to throw me sinkers. I saw it a little better than I thought, and I tried to get a pitch to hit but never got one. I walked my first time and then struck out on a heater the next time. It's tough - a lot tougher than you think it is.
SI: You drew the first walk off Nova for the season. Surprised?
JM: (Laughing) Yeah, I must have been intimidating in the box there.
SI: Was that the first time you've batted since high school?
JM: Yes, since high school. I'd been taking batting practice a little bit before that start because I knew I would be hitting, but it's completely different.
SI: Was there ever a time this year where you were facing a batter and thought, "Wow I'm facing ...?"
JM: It never works out well when you do that, because you're giving them too much credit. But I think it was Baltimore when I was on the mound facing Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo. Those are two guys that have been doing it for a while. Machado's one of the biggest names in baseball, and Trumbo has been hitting homers for a while. That was probably the first and only time because you can't lose focus.
SI: You had kind of a rough month of May (1 win, 3 losses) and followed that up with your best month in June (4 wins, 1 no decision). What was the difference?
JM: I feel like I've been pretty consistent. I've been giving them at least five innings every game and keeping the damage below three runs. I just try to keep the game close for the bullpen whenever I'm done. I just try to go out there and make pitches.
SI: Do the two 8-strikeout games (June 9 vs. Baltimore & June 29 at Chicago White Sox) stand out in terms of where you felt you were at the top of your game?
JM: Yeah, I guess my stuff was better and my location was better, but I kind of have the same mindset going out there every game. I'm going to get this going and work off of that and then throw them my offspeed stuff.
SI: What's the Major League lifestyle been like for you?
JM: It's like minor league life - but better. Hotels are better and you fly everywhere so that's better. But it's nothing different. You're definitely used to it in the minor leagues.
SI: What's the biggest area you think you've improved on since the beginning of the year?
JM: I feel like I can still get better in everything. My fastball command hasn't been great. I haven't really trusted my fastball up there yet. Still settling in I guess and still giving the hitters too much credit. So I've got to get out of that. But my off-speed stuff has been sharp and I've been able to put guys away. I just have to work on not giving up home runs. I've been missing middle in about once a game and that's been the difference in the games.
SI: What's the plan for the rest of the year?
JM: I would guess I'd still be the fifth man and just try to go up and do what I did the first half. I'm just going to try to put together a better second half and hopefully help us get in the playoffs.