ST. LOUIS — Lately slipping but still a slight lead for the best record in the American League, the Yankees came into action last Monday before the Major League Baseball trading deadline. They sent two of their top-10 prospects and two other minor league players to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for assistant pitcher Lou Trivino and starting pitcher Frankie Montas.
While Trivino, a right-hander, has underperformed his career standards this season, he’s bolstering an injury-ridden bullpen. He has played four times for the Yankees. But Montas, the hub of the trade and the kind of rotational aid other contending teams had sought, was yet to make his Yankees debut.
Due to a death in his family, Montas didn’t join the Yankees until Saturday night and met them in St. Louis. He was huddled with catcher Jose Trevino at the team hotel. And a day later, he climbed the mound as a Yankee for the first time. But even he couldn’t stop the team’s worst slip of 2022.
Montas had his worst start of the season, giving up six runs over three innings on Sunday. The 12-9 loss to the rising Cardinals marked the end of the Yankees’ first three-game sweep of the season, extending their worst five-game run of the season.
On July 8, the Yankees were on pace (118) to break an MLB record for wins (116) in a 162 game regular season. They have been sputtering ever since, from 9-16. The Yankees (70-39) still maintain a significant lead in their division, the AL East, but cracks are visible and they have lost ground to the Houston Astros (70-40) for best AL seed in the postseason.
Against the Cardinals, who are ranked first in the National League Central, Montas’s command was inconsistent. In the second inning, with the Yankees leading 4-1, he walked the first two batters. Dylan Carlson and Paul Goldschmidt each rode in a run—with another walk in between—to bring the Cardinals within one run. Then Nolan Arenado hit a leading, three-run home run that earned him a curtain call.
Rightfielder Aaron Judge tied the score with a double-run double in the fifth inning, but the Yankees bullpen squandered it in the bottom half of the frame by giving up three runs.
Perhaps one reason for Montas’s struggle was his erratic schedule lately. Montas, a right-hander, returned on July 21 after missing nearly three weeks with an inflammation in his throwing shoulder. He started again for Oakland on July 26 and reached 78 pitches, before being traded to New York. But then death came in the family that delayed Montas’ arrival and affected his workload, according to Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who was still building after the injury.
While Montas was on the mourning list, Sam Briend, the team’s pitching director, flew to Arizona to meet with him and oversee his throws, including a bullpen session, said Matt Blake, the team’s pitching coach.
“We didn’t want him to be alone for four or five days and then come and start, so Sam went, got a bit of an eye on him, discussed what the expectations were, and gave us a download of what he’s doing in his routine and everything,” Blake said.
Boone added: “We’ve had about as good a week as you can get given the circumstances.”
Ahead of the trade deadline, the Yankees added All-Star outfielder Andrew Benintendi, a left-handed contact hitter who helps further balance the lineup and the absence of Giancarlo Stanton (left Achilles’ tendonitis) and Aaron Hicks’ battle (.226 batting average); right-handed reliever Scott Effross, who caused strikeouts by throwing a pistol; trivino; and Montas.
Montas, 29, is strengthening a rotation that has seen some struggle (Domingo German has a 5.09 ERA in four starts since returning from a shoulder injury) and that will be without Luis Severino (right latissimus dorsi strain) until mid-September.
But the Yankees also pulled off their rotation, surprisingly sending 29-year-old southpaw Jordan Montgomery—who had been drafted by the Yankees in 2014, had thrown solid (3.69 ERA) and was under team control next year—to the Cardinals for Harrison Bader. , a 2021 Gold Glove winning midfielder who will be on the injured list until maybe September. Although Bader hit .256 this season and has been out with plantar fasciitis since late June, he can help bolster the Yankees’ weakest defensive outfield position.
(To call it emotional and weird to face his former teammates so suddenly, Montgomery threw five scoreless innings against the Yankees in a 1-0 win on Saturday.)
While the baseball industry saw Montas as an upgrade over Montgomery, General Manager Brian Cashman recently said he didn’t take over Montas and then send Montgomery. He said the swapping for Montas, who will be a free agent after the 2023 season, and the swapping of Montgomery for Bader were all done with the aim of “how can we best fly high with the best of our abilities when it’s the October is what counts most and what gives us the most quality choices.”
Blake said Montas was similar to Severino, “a bulldog on the hill who attacks you with force.” He later added: “For us, it’s a mid-to-90s right-handed pitcher with a full arsenal that can get left and right. It fits right at the top of our rotation and gives us another man with whom we have the confidence to go into the post season. ”
Montas, who originally signed with the Boston Red Sox from his native Dominican Republic, found his way into the Athletics after being traded several times. In six years in Oakland, Montas was 35-30 with a 3.70 ERA over nearly 538 innings, was banned for 80 games in 2019 for a performance-enhancing drug, and only once threw more than 180 innings in a season (in 2021, with an ERA from 3.37).
Before joining the Yankees, Montas had a 3.18 ERA in 104⅔ innings this season. His first impression didn’t go well, but since they’re planning for October, the Yankees need Montas to get in shape.