DENVER — We take this break from the Chicago Cubs’ march to the postseason and what is looking more and more like Kris Bryant‘s march toward an MVP award to discuss next season and, even more importantly, the season after that.
Two years from now, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and John Lackey might be pitching elsewhere or, in Lackey’s case, retired. Who takes the mound for the Cubs while their position players are entering their primes is undoubtedly a question the front office has been pondering for a while.
After several years of searching for a young, controllable starter, they might have found their man in lefty Mike Montgomery, 27, who isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2019.
“I thought he was outstanding,” manager Joe Maddon said after Montgomery threw 4 1/3 innings against the Colorado Rockies on Saturday in a spot start, which the Cubs won 9-2. “In the larger picture, we think he can be very, very helpful to us.”
That larger picture could be as soon as next season, as Hammel has a team option for 2017 for $10 million. In the present, Montgomery was simply pleased to help after he was acquired from Seattle for prospect Dan Vogelbach. His first couple outings out of the bullpen were rough, but he had everything working Saturday, and he became just the second pitcher to throw at least four no-hit innings in Colorado this season.
“It’s an easy delivery, an easy everything,” Maddon said. “He’s pitching with confidence. I see him settling [in].”
Even though it was his first start since July 17, Montgomery wasn’t thrilled about being pulled after he gave up his first hit of the night, a home run to Nick Hundley with one out in the fifth. He was just two outs from qualifying for the win when Maddon yanked him.
“I was a little pissed, but I understand the situation and the pitch count,” Montgomery said after throwing 60 pitches. “I figured it was going to be my last inning. I wanted to stay in there and get two more outs, but that’s how it goes.”
His battery mate, Miguel Montero, was thrilled that Montgomery and reliever Trevor Cahill were the only two pitchers the Cubs needed in Saturday’s win. He was extremely impressed with the Cubs newcomer.
“The fastball command was good,” Montero said. “Some good life. The changeup was outstanding. The curveball was pretty nasty.”
Montgomery struck out five while walking two and giving up just that one hit, and Montero had a season-high three hits. The combination helped the Cubs to their 16th win in their past 19 games.
“It felt good to get the hits,” Montero said. “I felt even better saving our bullpen.”
Bryant made it a lot easier for Montgomery to pitch, as his four RBIs — three on his 31st home run of the season — opened the game up. But Montgomery looked good even before the Cubs grabbed the lead, which created hope that the worldwide search for young pitching that the front office has undertaken might have led to a find. The left-hander is no one-start wonder for the Cubs; he’ll get another chance Friday in Los Angeles, and his pitch count will rise.
“They’ve mentioned that, and I’ve said that’s what I want to do,” Montgomery said of starting long-term.
His manager added: “He can be really good. Not just pedestrian but very good.”
Montgomery proved as much Saturday, and he helped reduce the Cubs’ magic number to clinch the division to 28.