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Breaking down Frankie Montas’ rocky Yankees debut

The Yankees’ newest starting pitcher did not have the debut we’d hope for, so what went wrong?

MLB: New York Yankees at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday afternoon in St. Louis, the Yankees’ newest starting pitcher, Frankie Montas made his debut in pinstripes. As New York tried to salvage the series finale against the Cardinals, their newly-minted starter offered an uninspiring performance on the hill. Montas was the big get of the deadline, and games like this are a big reason you acquire a pitcher like him. Alas, he went just three innings, surrendering five hits and six runs while walking three and striking out just two opposing Cardinals. This is certainly not what the Yankees wanted, but what exactly went wrong for Montas? And is there cause for concern?

In the first inning, Montas relied on his four-seamer quite a bit, throwing it nearly half the time in the opening frame. The righty surrendered two singles and a hit-by-pitch, each of which were indicative of the issues he faced throughout the outing. The two singles, from Dylan Carlson and Nolan Arenado, were on off-speed pitches that were left up in very hittable spots, and the HBP was on a sinker that ran too far to the arm side. Much of the trouble that Montas ran into in St. Louis was due in large part to these types of mistakes. It wasn’t all bad though, as he struck out Tyler O’Neill on a good high fastball, and got Lars Nootbar to ground out on a well executed low splitter.

The real problems came in the second inning, when the Cardinals’ offense threw up a five-spot. Montas walked the first batter while throwing exclusively four-seamers and sinkers, granted the 3-2 pitch likely should have been called a strike. Yadier Molina walked next, with a few more sinkers from Montas that flew too far to his arm side. He rebounded with an excellent strikeout of Tommy Edman, likely his best at-bat of the game.

The good news ended there unfortunately, as the following batters went: 106-mph double, four-pitch walk, 105-mph sacrifice fly, and then the three-run homer off the bat of Arenado.

This troublesome inning once again demonstrated those same problems: three walks with an inability to locate his fastballs, and hard-hit balls as a result of pitches left in the heart of the zone. Montas was shaky all afternoon, and the Cardinals pounced on him without hesitation in the second. The third and final inning of his outing was not quite as noisy, but even still, two of the outs Montas recorded were on balls hit over 100 mph on pitches he left in dangerous spots.

Throughout his outing, Montas relied heavily on his four-seamer and sinker, throwing them about two-thirds of the time, and almost exclusively on the first pitch of an at-bat. He threw his hard stuff about seven percent more often than he has this season, and as a result, shied away from his slider and splitter.

Montas got six of his eight whiffs on the day with those two pitches, even though they only accounted for about a third of his pitch total. This is something I’d anticipate changing as his Yankee tenure continues, particularly with the splitter, as that seems to be his best pitch.

It seems fairly straightforward, but Montas simply couldn’t locate his fastballs, often pulling his four-seamer, and letting his sinker run too far, while too many of his off-speed pitches got left in very hittable spots. The one-two punch of trouble locating and getting hit hard when you do find the zone is not among the best combinations.

It is absolutely worth considering the circumstances Montas was in as well. He just joined the team on Saturday on the heels of a loss in his family, hadn’t pitched since July 26th, and also only had so much time to prepare a game plan in person with catcher Jose Trevino. It’s fair to say that he was not dealing with this start under the most ideal scenario, which likely had at least some effect on his performance.

This was a bad start, there’s no reason to dance around that. But Frankie Montas was making his debut, surely an already difficult thing to do, under unusual and unfortunate circumstances. Plus, bad starts do just happen sometimes (ask Gerrit Cole). He had trouble with his command, and got hit hard when he left pitches over the plate. This team needs a boost of some form soon, and Montas couldn’t deliver that on Sunday. But there’s no reason to panic about the acquisition.