PEORIA, Ariz. -- Sometimes the pieces just fit together. Sometimes the obvious moves are the best ones. So it is that the Mariners hope left-handed starter Mike Montgomery -- out of Minor League options and facing long odds to crack the rotation -- can help fill the void in a bullpen where injuries have created several openings.
Montgomery threw back-to-back shutouts last year as a rookie starter, flashing the considerable potential that made him a first-round Draft pick of the Royals in 2008. But he faded in the second half of the season, was shipped back to Triple-A and came to camp this spring listed seventh in the pecking order of a rotation bolstered by trades for Wade Miley and Nathan Karns as well as the return of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.
Despite a brief setback when he needed a cyst surgically removed from his neck early in camp, Montgomery has looked sharp this spring. He threw three scoreless frames against the Reds in his lone start last week, then made quick work of the Giants in his first inning of relief Wednesday.
With Charlie Furbush's availability for the opening of the season in question due to a slow return from his shoulder issues, the Mariners southpaw situation in the 'pen currently revolves around Vidal Nuno, David Rollins and now Montgomery. And new manager Scott Servais is intrigued by the potential of the 6-foot-5 California native, believing Montgomery's pitches looked sharper in the one-inning stint.
"The velocity was 92-94 mph," Servais said. "There's down angle to it. I think [it helps to have] the presence of coming in, 'Here it is, go after it.' Just let it eat and really attack vs. as a starter, where you are pacing yourself and making sure you get all your pitches in there. I liked his outing yesterday. I liked his demeanor. He was very aggressive."
Montgomery went through a similar situation last year with the Rays, who converted him briefly to the bullpen in camp. But injuries in their rotation ended that experiment quickly, and then he was dealt to Seattle for Erasmo Ramirez right before the season opener and he remained a starter in the Mariners' organization.
"I still believe I'm a starter, but I want to help this team win the World Series," Montgomery said. "If they think my best role is out of the bullpen, then I'm going to do that the best I can, for sure. That's pretty much it. I think I can start, but I'm coming out of the bullpen and I'll give everything I've got."
There is plenty of precedence, of course, for starters who've converted to quality relievers. One of the best examples, interestingly, is Wade Davis of the Royals. Davis turned into a dominant All-Star reliever in Kansas City after being traded from the Rays in a six-player deal in 2012, which included Montgomery going to Tampa Bay.
"I see a lot of guys around the league -- and with the Royals especially -- doing stuff like this all the time," Montgomery said of the transition. "I think if I just focus on pitching, whether it's starting or relieving, there are ways to get guys out and I think I can do both. It's just about getting guys out. Whatever way you can do it, you just need to get guys out."
There is a different mindset, of course, and Montgomery said attacking hitters right from the get-go with fastballs and whatever his best secondary pitch is that day will be his primary approach.
But Montgomery was already attacking this camp in a different way, saying all along he's felt more confident and comfortable. He knew he had significant success for a stretch in the Majors last year, when he went 4-2 with a 1.62 ERA in his first seven starts before tailing off to 0-4 with an 8.33 ERA over his final nine.
Montgomery said he got away from his strengths when he began facing some teams for a second time and he wasn't commanding the ball as well, but he vowed he learned from that experience and he's ready to prove he belongs in whatever role he's given.
"Physically, I had a great offseason," Montgomery said. "I really just think my experience from last year -- and all my years -- I just feel more comfortable commanding the ball, staying within myself, knowing what I can do, which is big. I feel good physically and mentally. And having that experience of getting called up last year and making 16 starts was invaluable."