SARASOTA, Fla. — Jordan Montgomery said he gets “random” texts from Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia, a pair of former Yankee left-handers who led rotations in The Bronx for years.
“They’re checking in on me, so they believe in me,” Montgomery said. “They always told me ‘You’re gonna be pitching for a long time. Just get better every year, keep learning and adjust and never really peak.’ ”
The Yankees continue to have lofty expectations for Montgomery and believe he can be a significant part of this year’s rotation — although with Gerrit Cole in the prime of his career, they shouldn’t need Montgomery to be an ace anytime soon.
The 28-year-old is slotted in behind Cole, along with Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon — both of whom have not been healthy the last two years.
And the team would like Montgomery to take the next step in his progression after a solid 2020.
In the meantime, he’ll take the advice from the pair of retired southpaws as he enters his first full season since returning from June 2018 Tommy John surgery.
Montgomery said he felt good during his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday, when he battled his command in the first inning, but settled down later in the frame and was sharp in his second inning of work.
He allowed a triple to Cedric Mullins on his second pitch of the game and walked a pair in the opening inning of a 4-2, seven-inning win at Ed Smith Stadium.
Montgomery also pitched with Kyle Higashioka behind the plate, the same battery as the Yankees used in Game 4 of the ALDS a year ago, when Montgomery gave up one run in four innings in an elimination game. He flirted with disaster in the third inning of that game, loading the bases, but allowed just the one run.
The Yankees won that game, 5-1, but lost Game 5 to end their season.
Still, Montgomery believes it was a major step for him.
“That definitely gave me confidence,’’ Montgomery said of the outing- and the Yankees’ faith in putting him in that position. “Success against a good team on a big stage makes you understand sometimes you overthink instead of just playing baseball.”
That’s among the strides Montgomery needs to take to go from someone the Yankees are enthused about to someone who delivers consistently.
“I think last year was a big confidence-builder for him, returning from injury and his stuff was a tick up,’’ Aaron Boone said.
Boone also blamed some of Montgomery’s poor numbers from a year ago — he went 2-3 with a 5.11 ERA in 10 starts — on “a couple of outings” as Montgomery and the team focus on advanced stats, like soft-contact percentage.
Those aren’t the only numbers Montgomery is looking at.
After coming into camp more muscular last spring, Montgomery said he had a different approach this offseason and arrived about 15 pounds lighter than he ended last year.
“Sometimes I get mixed up in the ‘mass equals gas’ aspect,’’ Montgomery said. “This year, I wanted to lean up, [be more] athletic [and] lean. My weight is closer to where it should be than [it was] last year. I’m moving [well] and feeling better.”
Perhaps a sign that it’s paid off came when he made two plays coming off the mound for outs. And Montgomery was pleased with his fastball command and effectiveness of his curveball.
He’ll now wait to hear from Pettitte or Sabathia again, both of whom still have ties to the team.
As Montgomery said, Pettitte’s biggest piece of advice is simple: “ ‘Your fastball is better than mine. So you’ve just got to throw it in there for strikes.’ ”