These days, it seems the only thing capable of holding Mike Montgomery back is a tornado.
Montgomery took the mound for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals on Wednesday afternoon, five days after tornado-related storms in Little Rock, Ark., had washed out his Texas League debut after 1 2/3 innings of work. The fire-balling southpaw earned his first Double-A victory, allowing one run on two hits over 5 2/3 innings while striking out eight as Northwest Arkansas rolled to a 3-1 victory over visiting Springfield.
"[Montgomery] was definitely as advertised, with the eight punchouts, and how he was putting hitters away out there," said Naturals pitching coach Larry Carter. "Ask anyone in baseball, you're not going to come across too many 6-fooot-5 lefties ... who can throw downhill on the batter like he does."
Montgomery's strong outing was in line with what has thus far been a dominating 2010 season. The 2008 first-round draft pick began the year with Wilmington of the Class A Advanced Carolina League, where he went 2-0 with a 1.09 ERA in four starts. He struck out 33 batters over 24 2/3 innings, and opponents batted just .165 against him. He took home the first two Carolina League Pitcher of the Week awards before being promoted to the Naturals.
Montgomery walked only four batters in Wilmington, a number he matched on Wednesday. Carter attributed this uncharacteristic lack of control to the circumstances surrounding the outing.
"Being his first Double-A start, he had a lot of adrenaline going out there. Maybe he was overthrowing the ball, trying to be a bit too fine," said Carter. "He was leaving his fastballs up early, but made the adjustments, and as the game went on he was locating the ball at the bottom of the strike zone.
"Not too many guys were making good contact [against Montgomery], the damage done was a result of not throwing strikes," he added. "Four walks and a hit batter -- I guarantee that's not something he's happy with."
But Montgomery's command improved as the game went on and he allowed just one walk and one hit over his final 2 2/3 innings of work. Carter noted that Montgomery was able to complement his intimidating fastball with a deceptive changeup and "12-6" curve, leaving hitters off balance.
"I told him, 'You're a predator out there, not the prey,'" said Carter. "Go after guys just like you were in A-ball. The game's no different here. The plate's the same size, and the bases are still 90 feet apart."
And with his first start -- and first win -- official in the Double-A books, Montgomery can focus on continuing a rapid ascent up the Minor League ladder.
"It's great that this first one's out the way," said Carter. "Because this train's not stoppin'. It's gonna just keep on rollin'."