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Rookie Jordan Montgomery isn’t fazed by Yankees’ lore, expectations

Just call him Gumby, dammit.

Before making his major league debut for the Yankees last Wednesday against the Rays, southpaw Jordan Montgomery was handed that nickname as a freshman at South Carolina. Unless manager Joe Girardi elects to anoint him as “Jordy” or “Monty” to players and reporters, the renowned green claymation character will fit the rookie’s bill.

“[Gumby] was my nickname in college,” Montgomery told New York Post’s Steve Serby in a recent Q&A session. “I was so long, kind of uncoordinated … showed up first day of summer practice, and one of the fifth-year seniors turned around, asked me what my name is: ‘I’m gonna call you Gumby from now on,’ and it stuck. I hated it at first, but lately everyone calls me it. Just kind of learned to go with it.”

Montgomery’s first outing in pinstripes showed more promise than doubt, as the 24-year-old struck out seven while allowing only five hits for two runs over 4.2 innings. From the first pitch until his last, Montgomery attacked the zone, and while it did result in a few mistakes–allowing a home run in his first inning, for example–he appeared to be calm, cool, and collected. It’s due to his confidence, Montgomery told Serby, as he believes he’s more than capable of pitching at the highest level. 

“When you’re striking out [Evan] Longoria — he’s such a great player … you don’t strike him out and not belong, is what I’ve been telling myself,” Montgomery said. “Everyone’s saying like, you can get here, and then when you stick, you stick because you know you belong and that’s when you keep working. [Michael] Pineda was telling me … you can’t be content with getting here. When you get here and you stop working, someone else is gonna take your spot, because they’re down there working. I’m gonna keep trying to get better every outing.

Be in attack mode the whole time I’m out there, and just go after the hitters, not try and nibble, but just trust my work, trust my preparation and if I do it right the ball’s gonna go where it’s supposed to. If you’re touchy-feels with it, the wheels are gonna come off quick.”

Standing on the bump at six-foot-six and 225 pounds, it didn’t take long for fans and analysts to see Montgomery and draw comparisons to former Yankees’ ace Andy Pettitte, who resembled a near identical physique. But what makes Montgomery unique is his pitching delivery: an over-the-top motion that can deceive and buckle hitters at the plate. 

“I’m over the top. That’s rare, I guess,” Montgomery told Serby. “I hide the ball. I spin the ball pretty well, four-seam. … I guess those are the three things I have going for me.”

It’s been over two decades since the Yankees have groomed a successful left-handed pitching prospect, and while Montgomery isn’t close to becoming a front line ace–like Pettitte once was–his manager hopes to see a spitting image. 

“His stuff is kind of similar,” Girardi said of Montgomery to NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty. “Andy used his cutter more. He’s more of a slider and changeup guy. I hope he acts just like him.

I think fastball command needs to improve for him. But I’m not surprised it wasn’t great considering it was his first day he ever pitched in the big leagues. I think his slider will be better. I think that’s a big pitch for him.”

Even if Montgomery can’t pitch like Pettitte, he at least wants to look like him. Despite the Yankees’ strict rules for facial hair, Montgomery takes full advantage of the team’s tolerance for stubble. 

“Yeah. Had a beard in college. I shave bullpen days so I can have a little scruff on the mound,” Montgomery told Serby. “Just got a real bad baby face. I want to have just enough to where I can get by with it. That’s another thing Pettitte did — he would only shave the days after he pitched, so he would have a little bit on the mound, so kind of got that from him.”

According to Serby, Montgomery’s favorite film is Bull Durham. While the story mainly revolves around Kevin Costner’s portrayal of a wise and worn-out veteran minor league catcher, the film’s plot wouldn’t exist without “Nuke” LaLoosh, a cocky, young-gun hurler who needs help being pushed in the right direction. Perhaps Montgomery didn’t require that type of coaching, but some advice–like his nickname–has stuck with him over the years. 

“In college, our pitching coach was kind of stoic, until he got to know you,” Montgomery said. “He always said, “You want to look the same no matter what’s happening, if you’re throwing a perfect game or if you’re giving up 20 in an inning, you don’t want to show a kink in your armor. 

I know what I’m here for, I’m just trying to give off the right influence, be a good role model to any kids in South Carolina, and try and do things the right way.”

Montgomery will make his second career start on Monday night against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium.

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.

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