Frankie Montas parlays new pitch into spot in A's rotation

Oakland Athletics closer Frankie Montas pitches against the Nippon Ham Fighters in the ninth inning in their pre-season exhibition baseball game at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo Sunday, March 17, 2019. The Athletics won 5-1. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Oakland Athletics closer Frankie Montas, right, and catcher Nick Hundley celebrate their 5-1 victory over the Nippon Ham Fighters in their pre-season exhibition baseball game at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Oakland Athletics pitcher Frankie Montas gives his autograph to fans prior to their pre-season exhibition baseball game against the Nippon Ham Fighters at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo Monday, March 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Oakland Athletics pitcher Frankie Montas delivers against the San Francisco Giants during the ninth inning of an exhibition baseball game, Sunday, March 24, 2019, in Oakland, Calif. The A's defeated the Giants 5-0. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

SAN FRANCISCO — Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin took another step toward finalizing his pitching rotation Monday, announcing right-hander Frankie Montas will be the team's fourth starter.

The 26-year-old Montas has had varied success during parts of two seasons with the A's but was dominant this spring after adding a splitter to complement a 97 mph fastball and slider. The new pitch produced immediate results as Montas went 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA in five games with 16 strikeouts and five walks over 16 innings.

He joins an A's rotation that includes Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada and Brett Anderson.

"Deservedly so," Melvin said. "He's had a terrific spring, pitched well whether he was starting a game, whether he was piggy-backing with somebody, and continued pitching the same the entire spring — with some pressure on him knowing that he had to win a job. Proud of him. He deserves to be in the rotation."

Melvin didn't use a projected starter in Oakland's 5-4 exhibition win over San Francisco, instead relying strictly on his bullpen to carry the pitching load. Nine relievers combined on a six-hitter.

Mark Canha hit a two-run double off Ty Blach to highlight the A's four-run seventh inning. Jurickson Profar added an RBI single and Marcus Semien doubled in a run.

Buster Posey had a two-run single for the Giants.

Montas' emergence this spring has been huge for the A's rotation, which has been beset by injuries for a second straight year. Top prospect Jesus Luzardo, who had a 0.93 ERA in four games this spring, has been shut down for at least a month due to a left shoulder injury.

Sean Manaea, who threw a no-hitter against the World Series champion Boston Red Sox last season, is still recovering from shoulder surgery and it's uncertain if he'll pitch this season. Jharel Cotton and A.J. Puk are coming off Tommy John surgery.

While Melvin is unsure who his fifth starter will be, Montas cemented his turn in the rotation with a strong spring.

"It feels just like a blessing," Montas said "I was working for it. When (Melvin) told me, I was pretty happy about it. I was just trying to do my job."

Montas credited his comfort with the splitter as being the difference in his spring success. It's something he and A's pitching coach Scott Emerson have been tinkering with since last season.

"I really tried to focus on it in spring training," Montas said. "I feel like I'm able to throw it whatever the count. Honestly, when I started throwing it, it was to get people off my fastball. When hitters have to worry about three pitches, not just two, it makes it worse for them and better for me. Now it's three pitches. It makes it tougher."

Montas went 5-4 with a 3.88 ERA in 11 starts for Oakland in 2018 after pitching 23 games in relief the previous season.

The A's had hoped to keep Montas in the bullpen last year but had to accelerate their plans to convert him to a starter after the injuries to Cotton, Puk and Manaea wiped out the rotation.

That and Montas' success throwing the splitter made it an easy call for Melvin to settle on him as Oakland's fourth starter this season.

"What's made him kind of who he is now is adding the split-finger and being a true three-pitch-mix guy now with his slider, and having command of all those pitches," Melvin said. "He's a little bit of a different guy than we've seen the last couple years."

ROSTER MOVES

The Giants made a series of moves as they get closer to Thursday's season opener in San Diego. Catcher Tom Murphy was claimed off waivers from Colorado, catcher Aramis Garcia was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento and RHP Merandy Gonzalez was designated for assignment.

Murphy had a .219 batting average with 10 home runs and 34 RBIs over four seasons with the Rockies.

SPLITTING TIME AT FIRST

Jurickson Profar was acquired by the A's in the offseason to play second base after All-Star Jed Lowrie became a free agent, but Profar will also get a look at first as Oakland tries to fill the void created by Gold Glove winner Matt Olson's hand injury.

Profar batted fifth Monday behind slugger Khris Davis. Mark Canha will also play first in certain matchups, as well as in the outfield.

Canha's versatility to play both positions has helped ease the loss of Olson.

"Coming off the bench, especially for a younger player, is an acquired taste," Melvin said "It's not something that is easy right away. He's acclimated to it. Does he want to be an everyday player? Absolutely, but he knows that kind of that's his role right now and he's always ready for it."

UP NEXT

Athletics: RHP Aaron Brooks is scheduled to pitch Tuesday. Oakland, which lost its first two regular-season games to Seattle in Tokyo, resumes Thursday at home against the Angels.

Giants: RHP Jeff Samardzija pitches the exhibition finale against the A's on Tuesday. San Francisco opens the regular season Thursday in San Diego.

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