SEATTLE — The buzz around Frankie Montas as one of baseball’s most wanted pitchers ahead of the Aug. 2 trade deadline has only intensified with each start. However, an early exit on Sunday now leaves his immediate future in question.
On a chilly Seattle afternoon with heavy rain in the area on the first pitch, gloom came over the visiting T-Mobile Park dugout as the A’s watched their ace leave in Sunday’s 2-1 loss against the Mariners after a single inning with tightness in the back of his right shoulder.
There was immediate cause for concern about how Montas’ business looked in the first. Giving up a first homer to Julio Rodríguez as part of a 13-pitch frame, Montas maxed 94.5 mph with his fastball, a pitch that had hit 99.1 mph in his previous two outings. Overall, Montas’ speed on his four seam was 2.4 mph slower than his season average, while his lead speed was 2.7 mph lower.
After an evaluation of Montas’ shoulder by team doctors revealed inflammation, he is expected to have an MRI when the A’s return to Oakland on Monday to determine the severity of the problem.
“Frankie came out in that first moto and we noticed the bike was breaking down,” said manager Mark Kotsay. “We checked in with him after he arrived and he had some tightness and just didn’t feel like he could be fully extended. In this situation, we will err on the side of caution.
Montas noted that an inability to recover as he normally does after a start following his exit at Yankee Stadium earlier in the week may have contributed to Sunday’s alarming situation. While the pain was no different than what he’s felt throughout the year, seeing his speed readings on the stadium’s radar gun was an uneasy feeling for Montas and the A’s coaching staff. leading to a joint decision to end his release.
“I’m still in pain,” Montas said. “Usually I go out there and pitch and it gets better. But my bike has never broken down. I felt like the best thing was to get out of this game and watch better [the shoulder].”
Emerging as a workhorse for the A’s who has ranked among the AL’s leaders in innings pitched for the past two years, Montas managed to avoid a stint on the injured list as a major leaguer during all of his seven major league seasons. Initial stress tests revealed no signs of major injury. While Monday’s MRI will provide a better idea of how much time he could miss, if any, Montas remained positive about his post-game outlook.
“I’m going to have the MRI when we get home and we’ll go from there,” Montas said. “I don’t think it’s anything bad, just pain and maybe inflammation. Nothing to worry about.”
Although the A’s entered a rebuild this spring by trading multiple stars, they held off on the Montas trade in hopes of receiving a better offer during the season. From the numbers of the right-hander, this move seemed to be the right one. Entering Sunday, Montas held a 3.20 ERA over 16 starts. Among American League starters, Montas had ranked fifth in innings pitched (95 2/3), seventh in strikeouts (99), eighth in WHIP (1.09), and 12th in batting average. stick opponents (0.226).
For a battling last-place A club that entered the day of its second-worst 80-game season start (26-54) since moving to California in 1968 and on the verge of losing an Oakland record of 110 games, Montas was one of the few bright spots as a potential All-Star candidate. For a youth A clubhouse that often looks to Montas for leadership, losing him for a lapse of time would certainly be a blow.
“He and Paul [Blackburn] have been our aces this year,” said A-side shortstop Elvis Andrus, who homered on Sunday. “I hope it’s nothing serious. Maybe just a little swelling and he’ll be back on the mound, because we want him. Every time he or Pauly throws, we know we have a high probability of winning that day. I want all my teammates to be healthy. I hope it’s nothing crazy and he can come back very soon.