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Frankie Montas disappoints in debut, Yankees out of sync in sweep by Cardinals

ST. LOUIS — These weren’t the most ideal conditions for Frankie Montas to make his Yankees debut after being traded from Oakland on Monday.

Montas met his new teammates for the first time Saturday night at the team’s hotel in St. Louis where he quickly had to go over Sunday’s game plan with catcher Jose Trevino. The newest Yankees starter had been away from the team since the trade due to the death of his mother-in-law. Montas was able to throw a few bullpen sessions while away from the team, but there’s no replacement for face-to-face contact with a new manager and teammates to get acclimated.

But this was his and the Yankees’ reality — having to meet his catcher, manager and as many of his new teammates as possible not even 24 hours before taking the mound to help New York avoid its first three-game sweep of the season.

“Sometimes life circumstances don’t allow it to be perfect and you just deal with it,” manager Aaron Boone said before Sunday’s game.

Montas was far from perfect in his debut with the Yankees. He allowed six runs on five hits, three walks and hit one batter in 64 pitches and three innings. This was the most runs Montas had given up in his 21 starts this season.

From the very first batter of the game, Montas was searching for put-away pitches all game. On a 1-2 count to Cardinals leadoff batter Dylan Carlson, Montas hung a splitter in the middle of the zone that Carlson smashed for a hard-hit single. On an 0-2 count to the next hitter, Brendan Donovan, Montas hit him with a 96 mph fastball to put two on for the heart of the order, which the Cardinals took advantage of and led 1-0 after the first inning.

Things unraveled for Montes in the second inning. He walked back-to-back hitters to start the inning, gave up an RBI double (which should have been a two-run triple but Yadier Molina has a strong argument for the slowest player in the league) and then Nolan Arenado blasted one 104.7 mph off the bat for a three-run home run.

“I wasn’t in sync with my mechanics,” Montas said. “I was missing my spots a lot. I wasn’t hitting my spots. They’re a good team and when you give the team a chance to hit pitches, that’s what’s going to happen.”

What’s encouraging about Montas’ debut is his velocity was even with his averages for the season so far, which is important because this was just his third start since being diagnosed with shoulder inflammation in early July. Montas hit 97.9 mph with his fastball and 96.3 mph with his sinker Sunday. The Yankees were going to hold Montas to around 70 pitches in this game because he hasn’t been built up to handle a full workload just yet. Montas said after the game that his shoulder is feeling fine.

There was some question about why the Yankees would pitch Montas in this game instead of holding him for Monday’s game against Seattle because he didn’t even have 12 hours with his new team before taking the mound, but Boone said that Sunday made the most sense with when Montas’ last bullpen was thrown and they didn’t want to mess with the rotation.

This wasn’t the version of the pitcher the Yankees hoped to see when they acquired Montas from the A’s, but he did flash what he can do on the mound with his fastball-sinker combo.

“I wanted to go out there and show them what I could do,” Montas said. “That wasn’t the case. This is not my last one. This is my first one.”

This wasn’t just a frustrating weekend for Montas, but the Yankees as a whole. They got swept in a three-game series for the first time all season, they dropped their fifth straight game and are now 12-18 in their last 30 games. This is a team that hasn’t played inspired and in-sync baseball for several weeks now. New York is now 9 1/2 games ahead of Toronto for the division lead, and it’s the first time since June 15 that the Yankees don’t have a double-digit lead in the AL East. Realistically, it’s hard imagining the Yankees falling off such a cliff that the division is in jeopardy; however, with the way the team is playing of late, it does seem like Houston will overtake the best record in the AL at some point.

To make matters worse for the Yankees this week, they were shut down by Mariners pitcher Luis Castillo, who the organization strongly pursued ahead of the deadline; they traded away Jordan Montgomery, who held his former team to five scoreless innings Saturday night and their crown jewel of the deadline, Montas, was rocked Sunday. That said, it’s still nowhere near time to panic and get sent into a frenzy if you’re a fan. It’s Aug. 7, and the Yankees are 31 games over .500. If this was mid-to-late September, it would be a different story.

“We’re definitely going through it right now,” DJ LeMahieu said of the Yankees’ current slide. “Frustrated with how we’ve played but still feel really good about our team and how we’ve done this year as a whole.”

Part of the problem right now for the Yankees is their lineup is quite the mess. After the top three, it’s been a toss-up for production for the past few weeks now. Gleyber Torres and Aaron Hicks, who both had three hits Sunday, have been in brutal slumps lately. Andrew Benintendi is in the middle of a 4-for-33 stretch. Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton both missed this weekend’s series with injuries. Rizzo could be available Monday if his lower back cooperates; Stanton could play this coming weekend in Boston but that’s still up in the air. There’s too much reliance on LeMahieu and Aaron Judge at the top of the order to produce right now, and that’s a big ask even for two hitters who remain on fire.

The bullpen has also been hit hard since the All-Star Break; that group ranks 20th in WAR during this stretch. Three different relievers gave up runs on Sunday (Albert Abreu, Jonathan Loaisiga and Scott Effross), and Clay Holmes blew a save on Friday. Ron Marinaccio, who’s been excellent for the Yankees, was optioned to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre on Saturday night to make room for Montas. It’s a difficult move for New York to make but, really, the only choice to be sent down because he has options remaining and there is a risk of putting someone on waivers and losing him for nothing.

It was probably unrealistic to expect the Yankees to continue their torrid pace from earlier in the season when they were on track to have the best record ever in MLB history, considering they hadn’t truly faced many difficulties all season long, but it’s here now.

(Photo: Jeff Curry / USA Today)

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