Manager Joe Maddon said in August that Mike Montgomery's future was as a starter, but it remains to be seen whether the Cubs will follow through and actually make the lefty a full-time member of the rotation. Montgomery operated as the Cubs' swingman in 2017, making 14 starts to go with 30 relief appearances. The final numbers were decent enough, and Montgomery's 4.15 ERA as a starter was largely backed up by the peripherals (4.07 FIP, 4.35 xFIP). Montgomery's K-rate fell more than a full strikeout per nine to 6.9 K/9 while his walk rate ticked up to 3.8 BB/9. He continued to induce groundballs at a high rate (57.8 percent) and he did a good job of keeping right-handed hitters in check (.282 wOBA), but the lack of swing and miss puts a cap on Montgomery's fantasy ceiling.
Montgomery has adjusted his delivery during the offseason in an effort to have better command, especially with his breaking ball, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports. Montgomery shortened his stride after talking with the team's run prevention coordinator, Tommy Hottovy. Hottovy saw on video that Montgomery's stride was longer in 2017 than it was in 2016, when the lefty had a breakout campaign for the Mariners before getting traded to the Cubs. "I was told my stride was longer on certain pitches, especially the curve," Montgomery said. "I need that pitch sharp to get more swings and misses. That's the age of baseball we're getting into. I've been able to apply it this spring." The 28-year-old is likely talented enough to start for most teams, but he'll begin the year as a valuable swing man in Chicago.
Montgomery looks to be headed to the bullpen after the Cubs' acquisition of Yu Darvish. Montgomery looked temporarily like he was in line to open the season in the rotation as the Cubs' fifth starter. He'll now presumably be opening the season in a bullpen role, though he's only one injury away from returning to the rotation. He's been significantly better as a reliever over the course of his career (2.29 ERA), though his 4.20 ERA as a starter is perfectly acceptable for a back-end starter. The 28-year-old lefty started 14 games for the Cubs last season after opening the year as the team's sixth starter and could easily make a similar number of starts this season.
Montgomery is lined up as the Cubs' No. 5 starter as spring training approaches, Carrie Muskat of MLB.com reports. The Cubs added Tyler Chatwood to replace one of the two vacancies in the rotation when Jake Arrieta and John Lackey became free agents this offseason, but they haven't brought in much competition for Montgomery to this point. It's not out of the question that the Cubs will land another starter in the coming weeks, either by re-signing Arrieta, or adding one of Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn. Nevertheless, Montgomery is an interesting draft-day consideration with the possibility of a starter's workload on tap. Although he's been more successful as a reliever to this point in his career (2.29 ERA), his results against lefties and righties are split-neutral, and he's held opposing hitters to a .239/.316/.398 line over 195 career innings as a starter while pitching to a 4.20 ERA in that role.
Montgomery allowed one hit while striking out two over three scoreless innings in a no-decision against the Reds on Sunday. The lefty was excellent in this one, but his time on the mound was limited (37 pitches) with the Cubs looking to preserve his arm for the postseason. While Montgomery's strikeout rate dipped below 7.0 K/9 this year, he still managed a 3.38 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 130.2 regular-season innings. He could open 2018 in the rotation with both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey hitting free agency this winter.
Montgomery will take Jake Arrieta's place in the rotation for Sunday's contest against the Reds, Bruce Levine of WSCR-AM reports. With Arrieta resting his hamstring, manager Joe Maddon will turn it over to Montgomery for the regular-season finale, and see how far he can take them before turning it over to the bullpen. During his latest start against the Rays on Sept. 19, Montgomery went six innings, and while he has appeared out of the bullpen twice in the past week, he hasn't pitched since Tuesday. Montgomery might be able to go long enough to qualify for the win.