WIN­NING BEATS START­ING

Mont­gomery wants spot in ro­ta­tion, but he won’t rock the boat

Chicago Sun-Times - - CUBS BEAT - GOR­DON WITTENMYER Email: gwit­ten­myer @ sun­times. com

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs have told Mike Mont­gomery, and any­one ask­ing about Mont­gomery, that he is a bona fide ma­jor- league starter.

“I re­ally think this guy’s ca­pa­ble of 10 to 15 wins if he’s given the op­por­tu­nity,” man­ager Joe Mad­don said — last spring.

But, if any­thing, the left- han­der’s chances of ever be­com­ing a bona fide mem­ber of a five- man ro­ta­tion for this team have gone from slim to slim­mer since then and are fast ap­proach­ing none with the sign­ing of Yu Darvish to a six- year, $ 126 mil­lion con­tract.

That deal put five mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar starters un­der club con­trol for the next two years — three if Darvish doesn’t ex­er­cise his opt- out clause after 2019. And that doesn’t count re­hab­bing Drew Smyly, who could en­ter the mix next spring after sign­ing in De­cem­ber.

So what hap­pened to that “ca­pa­ble of 10 to 15 wins” senti- ment the staff and front of­fice keep talk­ing about?

“I hear you on that,” Mont­gomery said. “I think I’m go­ing to be a re­ally good [ starter].”

He has shown as much in 19 starts for the Cubs since be­ing ac­quired from the Mariners two sum­mers ago, in­clud­ing 14 as an in­jury re­place­ment last year that might have been the dif­fer­ence in mak­ing the play­offs.

Mont­gomery, 28, made those feel­ings clear in De­cem­ber when he spoke up about want­ing a le­git­i­mate shot to win a start­ing job and to avoid the swing­man role that he con­sid­ers a po­ten­tial health risk.

“It wasn’t like, ‘ Hey, make me a starter or I get traded,’ ” he said Wed­nes­day, the first of­fi­cial day of spring train­ing. “It wasn’t that black and white. It was just, ‘ Hey, I want to be a starter.’

“Peo­ple can take it how­ever they want to take it. It’s no big deal. I think it’s ob­vi­ous I want to do that, and I think it’s just a mat­ter of time and place and sit­u­a­tion.”

If any­thing, Mont­gomery wants to make this feel­ing clear, as well: Even in the same role as last year, he doesn’t want to be any­where else any­time soon.

“I def­i­nitely want to be here,” he said. “I know I want to be a starter, but, look, be­ing a part of this team the last cou­ple years, it’s a spe­cial group, and we not only have a good team, but I’ve never had more fun play­ing base­ball.”

Other teams seemed to sense an op­por­tu­nity when the Cubs signed Darvish, with the Cubs get­ting sev­eral calls about trades. At least one team, the Phillies, talked with the Cubs about Mont­gomery long be­fore the Darvish deal looked close.

But his value to the Cubs might be as great as ever, with al­ready high post­sea­son ex­pec­ta­tions sky­rock­et­ing and his role hav­ing be­come so im­por­tant for the pitch­ing staff.

Al­ready well- liked in the club­house, Mont­gomery’s team- ori­ented per­spec­tive in the face of a re­turn to sixth- starter sta­tus only adds to his value, Mad­don said.

“Guys in his sit­u­a­tion, it’s not easy,” Mad­don said. “A lot of times guys like that would want to go some­where else badly or would not be as will­ing or ac­cept­ing of their role.”

Mont­gomery talked with Mad­don and team pres­i­dent Theo Ep­stein over the win­ter about avoid­ing some of the more tax­ing turn­arounds, such as the time in Septem­ber he came out of the bullpen to get four outs just three days after a six- in­ning start.

“Be­ing in a unique role is some­thing that I take pride in, as well,” he said. “I just want to make sure my arm is healthy, my body, be­cause last year was def­i­nitely a tough year phys­i­cally. I’m not gonna lie. Dur­ing the play­offs, I could def­i­nitely feel the wear and tear of the reg­u­lar sea­son. So we’ll try to even that out a lit­tle bit.”

He said he’d be sur­prised if he got traded, but he added, “This is base­ball. You never know. I plan on be­ing here.”

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ GDubCub.

Mike Mont­gomery has drawn praise from Joe Mad­don for his team- first at­ti­tude.

| JOHN ANTONOFF/ FOR THE SUN- TIMES ( BE­LOW), NAM Y. HUH/ AP

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