James Paxton’s injury puts Jordan Montgomery under serious pressure

The Yankees would have liked to bring Jordan Montgomery along slowly in 2020, but James Paxton’s injury will push him into the limelight. 

Two seasons ago it looked like Jordan Montgomery was set to be a key member of the Yankees‘ starting rotation for years to come. Then Tommy John surgery cost him almost all of the 2019 campaign. While the Yankees would like to ease the southpaw back into action in 2020, the recent injury to James Paxton will cause the organization to rethink those plans.

The combination of Paxton’s injury and Domingo German’s suspension will leave Aaron Boone short of options to begin the regular season. Yes, the offseason acquisition of Gerrit Cole gives the Bronx Bombers the bona fide ace they’ve lacked in recent years, but he can only take the ball once out of every five starts.

Cole, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino are locks to be in the starting rotation come Opening Day. Veteran J.A. Happ also seems likely to join them when the team breaks camp. He suffered through a mediocre campaign in 2019, but team officials are optimistic he can bounce back in 2019. He’ll certainly get that opportunity.

Even if Happ slots in as the team’s No. 4 starter, it still leaves a gaping hole at the No. 5 spot. According to Yankees.com, Montgomery is currently the “favorite” to win the job in spring training. His ability to handle the job is no sure thing, but he does represent the best option of potential and experience for Boone and his coaching staff.

The good news for Montgomery is that he was healthy enough to pitch a few innings for the organization at the tail end of last season. That means he has enjoyed a full rehabilitation period under the watchful eye of the team’s medical officials. That should lessen any concern about rushing him back to a heavy workload.

The question remains, however, whether or not Montgomery has fully regained the arm strength that his elbow injury cost him. He’s not reliant on a blazing fastball to keep hitters at bay, but he does need his curve ball to be sharp if he’s going to get major league hitters out consistently. Monitoring his velocity will be important in spring training, but tracking the spin rate and movement of his off speed pitches will be more important for Yankees officials.

If Paxton falters, an even more unproven player like Deivi Garcia, Luis Cessa or Michael King may get their opportunity to supplant him in the rotation. That’s not an outcome the Yankees want to have to deal with.

The best case for the organization is that Montgomery regains the form that made him a valuable starter to begin the 2018 season. He doesn’t profile as an ace, but adding a quality middle of the rotation pitcher to the Yankees’ staff would give the organization a lot more options moving forward.

That’s why Montgomery will be one of the most closely watched players for New York during spring training. His ability to nail down a spot in the starting rotation will go a long way towards determining how the Yankees start their quest for a 28th World Series title.

Next: Yankees have plenty of options to cover for Domingo German
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