The Yankees are showing flaws, and look first at Frankie Montas

St. LOUIS — The Yankees slipped to the bottom Monday, but still maintained a slim lead for the best record in the American League. They sent two of their top-10 prospects and another minor leaguer to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for relief pitcher Lou Trivino and starting pitcher Frankie Montas.

While Trevino, a right-hander, has been below his career norm this season, he is bolstering an injury-depleted bullpen. He has already played four games for the Yankees. But Montas, the center-of-the-trade and rotation-type relief sought after by other contending teams, has yet to make his Yankees debut.

Due to a death in the family, Montas didn’t join the Yankees until Saturday night, facing them in St. Louis. He cuddled up with catcher Jose Trevino in the team hotel. And a day later he took the mound for the first time as a Yankee. But even that couldn’t stop the team’s worst skid of 2022.

Montas had his worst start of the season, allowing six runs over three innings on Sunday. A 12-9 loss to the surging Cardinals ended the Yankees’ first three games of the season and extended their season-worst five-game losing streak.

On July 8, the Yankees were on pace (118) to set the MLB record for wins (116) in a 162-game regular season. They’ve been cruising since then, going 9-16. The Yankees (70-39) still hold a commanding lead in their division, the AL East, but cracks are showing and they lost their spot to the Houston Astros (70-40) in the postseason for the AL’s top seed.

Against the Cardinals, who are in first place in the National League, Montas’ command was inconsistent. In the second inning, with the Yankees leading 4-1, he walked the first two batters. Dylan Carlson and Paul Goldschmidt each drove in a run — including a walk in the second — to bring the Cardinals within one run. Nolan Arenado then hit a three-run home run that brought him the curtain call.

Right fielder Aaron Judge tied the score with a two-run double in the fifth inning, but the Yankees’ bullpen squandered it in the bottom half of the frame, allowing three runs.

Perhaps the reason for Montas’ struggles has been his erratic schedule of late. Montas, a right-hander, returned July 21 after missing nearly three weeks with shoulder inflammation. On July 26, he started again in Oakland, hitting 78 pitches before being traded to New York. But then came a death in the family that delayed Montas’ arrival and affected his workload, according to Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who was still building from the injury.

While Montas was on the grief list, Sam Briand, the team’s director of pitching, flew to Arizona to meet with him and oversee his pitching, including a bullpen session, said Matt Blake, the team’s pitching coach.

“We didn’t want him to be out on his own for four or five days and then come in and start, so Sam went and looked at him, talked about what the expectations were and wrote down what he had. Doing his routine and everything,” Blake said.

Boone added: “We got about as good a week as we could under the circumstances.”

Before the trade deadline, the Yankees added All-Star outfielder Andrew Benintendi, a lefty contact hitter who helps balance the lineup and the absence of Giancarlo Stanton (left Achilles tendinitis) and the struggles of Aaron Hicks (.226 batting average); righty reliever Scott Efros, who wraps strikes with a sidearm throw; trivino and Montas.

Montas, 29, bolsters a rotation that has weathered some struggles (Domingo Germani has a 5.09 ERA in four starts since returning from a shoulder injury) and that will be without Luis Severino (right back strain) until mid-September.

But the Yankees also stripped their rotation, surprisingly sending out 29-year-old lefty Jordan Montgomery — who the Yankees signed in 2014, pitched steadily (3.69 ERA) and was under team control next year. Cardinals for Harrison Bader, the 2021 Gold Glove-winning center fielder, who is on the injured list until possibly September. Although Bader is hitting .256 this season and has been out since late June with plantar fasciitis, he could help shore up the Yankees’ weakest defensive outfield position.

(Calling it emotional and strange to be reunited with his former teammates so suddenly, Montgomery threw five scoreless innings against the Yankees in Saturday’s 1-0 win.)

Although the baseball industry viewed Montas as an upgrade to Montgomery, general manager Brian Cashman recently stated that he did not acquire Montas to send Montgomery away. He said the trade for Montas, who will be a free agent after the 2023 season, and the replacement of Montgomery with Bader were all about “how we can best fly as high as we can when it matters most in October.” And that gives us the best quality choice.”

Blake said that Montas is like Severino, “a bulldog on the hill that comes at you with power.” He later added, “For us, that’s a mid-to-upper 90s right-handed pitcher with a full arsenal that can get righties and lefties out. He just fits into the top of our rotation and gives us another guy that we feel confident with going into the postseason.”

Montas, who originally signed with the Boston Red Sox from his native Dominican Republic, found his footing in the Athletics after being traded several times. In six years in Oakland, Montas was 35-30 with a 3.70 ERA in nearly 538 innings, was suspended 80 games in 2019 for a performance-enhancing drug, and threw more than 180 innings in a season just once (3.37 ERA in 2021). ).

Before joining the Yankees, Montas had a 3.18 ERA in 104⅔ innings this season. His first impression wasn’t good, but as they plan for October, the Yankees will need Montas to round out his form.

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