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How Frankie Montas' MLB experience shapes what he brings to the Reds

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — This spring, Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell got his first impression of new starting pitcher Frankie Montas as Bell watched the veteran pitcher interact with his new teammates.

Montas reported early to spring training, and the 30-year-old right-hander immediately fit in.

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“He just seems like a great teammate,” Bell said. “He’s invested. The whole group that was here for early voluntary (workouts), he took it upon himself to lead that group. He was out watching all of the (bullpens) and live (batting practices). It’s stuff that’s really important. It’s a great example.”

Frankie Montas fits right in with the Reds' array of young pitchers because whatever they're going through, he's been there before.
Frankie Montas fits right in with the Reds' array of young pitchers because whatever they're going through, he's been there before.

Montas is taking this approach with a young Reds' pitching staff because he has been in their shoes. He has been the uber-talented young pitcher who felt like he was ready to be an ace.

In 2021, Montas’ talent carried him to an incredible season where he finished sixth in American League Cy Young voting. But then his career stalled out for two years because he had to get more mature.

Montas wishes that he knew then what he knows now.

“I’m not the same guy I was two years ago,” Montas said. “I was young back then. I didn’t really focus on myself. I had a lot of talent, and I focused on doing just enough. As you get older and injuries happen, you learn. I’ve learned how to be me without just competing with my talent. I’m also competing with my knowledge.”

Even though it's so early in camp, Frankie Montas has turned heads of coaches and players alike with the quality of his pitches.
Even though it's so early in camp, Frankie Montas has turned heads of coaches and players alike with the quality of his pitches.

The Reds signed Montas to a one-year deal over the winter and made him the highest-paid player on the team because they’re confident in what he can do when he’s healthy.

In 2019, Montas posted a 2.63 ERA across 16 starts with the Oakland Athletics. In 2021, he posted a 3.37 ERA and didn’t miss a start all year.

During a live batting practice against Reds hitters, Montas threw such an impressive breaking ball that it brought out an “evil” laugh from pitching coach Derek Johnson as he saw the damage it could do in games. The rise on Montas’ fastball was so impressive that shortstop Elly De La Cruz asked him how he did that.

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And Montas’ splitter is even better than both of those pitches.

When he’s at his best, Montas’ command isn’t elite, and he allows more hard contact than most top-half-of-the-rotation starters. But his upside is easy to recognize, and it’s made Montas the talk of camp through the first week of the spring.

“He’s one of the best arms in the game,” said Reds reliever Emilio Pagán, who played with Montas in Oakland. “He’s the ultimate competitor and an old school guy.”

“He wants to pitch as long as he can,” said Reds reliever Sam Moll, another former teammate of Montas’. “It was always a strong six or seven (innings) with a lot of punchouts in there. When he’s going well, it’s very impressive to watch. When he’s rocking and rolling, he’s dominant.”

Montas hasn’t felt as good as he does now since early in the 2022 season, when he and former Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo were two of the top targets during that year’s trade deadline.

Then in the middle of the 2022 season, Montas started battling a shoulder injury.

“I wish I had better knowledge of my body and how to use my pitches,” Montas said. “I had a lot of talent and was just trying to overpower people. I wasn’t using my knowledge and my mind.”

Relief pitcher Fernando Cruz, left, and starter Frankie Montas during drills last week. Montas is as healthy as he's been since the middle of the 2022 season, when he began having shoulder problems.
Relief pitcher Fernando Cruz, left, and starter Frankie Montas during drills last week. Montas is as healthy as he's been since the middle of the 2022 season, when he began having shoulder problems.

As Montas tried to pitch through it, his ERA suffered. The New York Yankees made an aggressive trade for Montas in 2022, and he posted a 6.35 ERA in his eight starts after the deadline.

While Montas was in the biggest spotlight that he had seen in his entire career, he had the worst stretch of his career. Expectations were at their highest, and Montas didn’t live up to them.

“It was tough as a person and as a pitcher," Montas said. “Everybody knows what I can do when I’m healthy. I love pitching. I love to give the team the best chance to win. When I got traded, I wasn't fully healthy. I was still trying to compete the best I can. It didn’t go my way. It is what it is. It’s in the past. It humbles you.”

During the offseason, Montas learned that he needed shoulder surgery to put this injury behind him. He suffered another setback, and it looked like he wouldn’t be able to pitch in 2023.

Montas set the goal that he was going to come back before the end of the season. Following seven months of rehab, Montas returned and pitched 1 ⅓ innings of relief for the Yankees on Sept. 30.

Montas entered the offseason healthy, and now he’s as close to midseason form as any pitcher in Reds spring training.

“I’m healthy, baby,” Montas said. “When I’m healthy, I know how to pitch. This is a team that treats everyone like family. When you have a good team like that, good things happen. It gives you the motivation to be the best version of yourself.”

Frankie Montas is a veteran when compared to the other starters in camp. Montas has nearly pitched more MLB innings (593) than Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft combined (626).
Frankie Montas is a veteran when compared to the other starters in camp. Montas has nearly pitched more MLB innings (593) than Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft combined (626).

He brought with him to Goodyear the lessons from the low points of his career. Montas also carries more experience than any starting pitcher in camp, and he has nearly pitched more MLB innings (593) than Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft combined (626).

“If I had somebody tell me then what I know now, I could have probably developed sooner and had more early success in my career,” Montas said. “I’m just trying to do my part. If I can tell a guy something that can help a guy improve, I’m not going to stay quiet. I’m going to try to help. That’s just me as a human. I enjoy doing that. I enjoy when guys ask my questions about pitching. That’s just me doing my part.”

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: How Frankie Montas' MLB experience shapes what he brings to the Reds