As Mariano Rivera continues his farewell tour, the New York Yankees face an obvious question: Who will replace him as their closer?
As one of the better young relievers in the Yankees' farm system, Mark Montgomery is a potential answer to that question. But the 22-year-old right-hander, in just his second full professional season, is focused on his role in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen.
"I don't get involved in speculation," Montgomery said. "I try to go out every day with a plan just to get better.
"No one will be able to [replace Rivera] because what he has done in his career is just incredible. If I get an opportunity, I just want to go in and pitch well to try and help the team."
So far, Montgomery has pitched well wherever he has been stationed in the Yankees system. Last year, he split time between Class A Advanced Tampa, where he was 4-1 with 14 saves and a 1.34 ERA, and Double-A Trenton, where he posted a 1.88 ERA to go with a 3-1 record and one save.
This season, the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder hasn't been the RailRiders closer, but he certainly has been effective. Montgomery boasted a 1.35 ERA in 12 appearances before getting roughed up by Columbus on Sunday. Entering that game, he'd allowed 14 hits while striking out 27 over 20 innings.
"He's got a good slider that, when he can get to it, has been a swing-and-miss pitch for him," RailRiders pitching coach Scott Aldred said of Montgomery. "He has a little deception in his delivery, and that makes his fastball 'play up' a little bit."
The only question for Montgomery at this point is trying to limit walks. He issued 10 free passes in his first 20 innings after entering the season with 35 walks in 93 innings.
"I'm working on getting ahead of hitters to get to the slider," Montgomery said. "I'm trying to be effective in the [strike] zone, avoiding long counts that push up pitch counts."
Aldred likes what he's seen from the Yankees' 11th-round pick in the 2011 Draft.
"He does have some things to work on, namely overall command of his fastball and his slider," Aldred said. "But that's the issue for most guys at this level -- increasing the percentage of times they can throw the ball to a specific location.
"He's moved through the system quick, but he still has some things to work on before he's ready for prime time."
So far, Montgomery hasn't given any indication that he's not up to that task, or the task of dealing with the pressure of pitching in New York, even if he's not Rivera's replacement as closer.
"It's been a quick ride and, hopefully, that will continue," Montgomery said. "But baseball is the same everywhere. It's about competing and getting better every day.
"It will be a great thrill when it happens [and I get called up], but until it does, I don't put any thought into it."
Steady as she goes: Louisville RHP Greg Reynolds is 4-0 with a 2.88 ERA in nine starts, but his consistency has been even more impressive. In each of his last three starts, his line has been almost identical: seven innings pitched, two earned runs allowed, with two games of five hits and one with seven. The 6-foot-7 right-hander has given up exactly two earned runs in each of his last six starts, pitching at least six innings in all of them.
The best on the worst: While Toledo enters this week with the IL's worst record, Mud Hens LHP Jose Alvarez has been among the league's best pitchers. The 23-year-old is 4-2 with an IL-best 1.98 ERA, having allowed 46 hits and nine walks in 54 2/3 innings. Alvarez ranks second with 55 strikeouts and by allowing 9.22 baserunners per nine innings.
Nasty boy: "I don't care if they're lefty or righty, not right now. I'm just in attack mode. Basically, I feel like I have to be [ticked] off." -- IronPigs LHP Jake Diekman to The (Allentown) Morning Call on May 18. After giving up three hits and three runs while getting one out on May 14 at Norfolk, he used his new "nasty" disposition to strike out two and get a weak grounder to earn a save against Rochester on May 18.
He said it: "Every hitter's waiting for my fastball because I throw hard. [Durham pitching coach] Neil [Allen] told me, 'Your cutter is good; you have to use it.'" -- Bulls RHP Alex Colome to the Durham Herald Sun on May 13. He struck out 11 in leading Durham to an 8-2 win over Lehigh Valley, relying on a cutter that impressed Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo. "He's got that cutter going almost like Mariano (Rivera), and they were missing it by a lot," Montoyo said. "That pitch is a strikeout pitch. He needed something like that and [now] he has it."