NEW YORK – Despite general unfamiliarity with Jordan Montgomery, the Yankees’ left-hander who made his major league debut on Wednesday, Rays first baseman Rickie Weeks Jr. revisited his Spring Training memory bank to great success early in yesterday’s game.
The 24-year-old struck out the first two Rays batters he faced (Steven Souza Jr., Kevin Kiermaier), becoming the first Yankees starter to punchout his first two opposing batters since Mariano Rivera on May 23, 1995. He quickly got ahead of Evan Longoria 0-2 but then threw him four straight balls for his first big league walk. Then the same thing happened with Weeks: two quick strikes and failure to put a veteran slugger away.
In Weeks’s case, a low, middle-in 93 mph fastball on 1-2 resulted in a two-run blast to left field, giving Tampa Bay an early lead.
“I’ve seen him in Spring [Training], I faced him in Spring [Training] one time...he threw well,” Weeks said after the game. “He had a fastball, cutter/slider, his changeup is probably his best pitch. I just wanted to try [and] get him down, I knew a couple of times, some guys were taking funky check swings at the ball up the zone...it had some pretty good life.
Weeks not only remembered the young Montgomery, he remembered him well.
“I wanted to get him down as much as possible and I just happened to get one in the zone,” Weeks added. That he did.
In 4.2 innings of work, Montgomery allowed just five hits, three runs (two earned), two walks, and seven strikeouts. The Rays were trying to follow Weeks’ lead on hitting Montgomery’s fastball as six of his punchouts came on the slider.
Of the Rays’ five hits against Montgomery, three of them came on fastballs. Montgomery learned quickly that he needed to mix up his offspeed pitches in tight spots, which was prevalent in the third and fourth innings.
After Peter Bourjous (single) and Kiermaier (hit by pitch) got on base, sandwiched a Souza line out in the third, Montgomery threw Longoria and Weeks four pitches each; both men struck out on 1-2 sliders and only Longo saw a fastball.
“Their pitcher [Montgomery], you know, he did a nice job of limiting damage and [he] mixed his pitches well,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
Rays starter Blake Snell — ironically, the last pitcher to make his MLB debut at Yankee Stadium before Montgomery — and the Yankees lefty would only last 4.2 innings yesterday afternoon, but in his MLB debut, Montgomery was the one with an out pitch.
Snell struck out only one batter and could not escape a fifth-inning jam that included 31 pitches, one hit, two walks, and two unearned runs. The Yankees would take the lead, and pile on from there to an 8-4 victory.
The Rays and Yankees finish the series tonight at 7:05 PM EST.