‘He’s a difference-maker’: Carson Montgomery shows star potential in win vs. Florida

Carson Montgomery made his third collegiate start against No. 5 Florida on Tuesday
Carson Montgomery made his third collegiate start against No. 5 Florida on Tuesday(WCTV)
Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 9:14 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - It had been 17 days since Carson Montgomery appeared in a game for Florida State.

The last time he stepped on the mound, he was making just his second career start in a primetime Saturday night matchup against Pitt at Dick Howser Stadium.

Montgomery faced eight batters but could record only three outs that night. He allowed three walks and two runs in a 7-2 loss, the second of three straight for Florida State.

The fact that Montgomery had performed well enough in the preseason to immediately earn a spot in the weekend rotation spoke volumes about the true freshman right-hander’s talent.

By the third weekend of the season though, Florida State head coach Mike Martin Jr. had already substituted Bryce Hubbart into Montgomery’s initial rotation slot. Montgomery, while supremely talented, just didn’t look quite ready to anchor one of Florida State’s weekend rotation spots yet.

Montgomery was scheduled to start both of Florida State’s previous two mid-week games against Mercer and South Florida, but both were canceled due to inclement weather and COVID-19 issues within USF’s program, respectively.

Rather than getting two opportunities to regroup against two lesser non-conference opponents, there stood Montgomery back on the mound at Dick Howser Stadium Tuesday night, being thrown into the fire two and a half weeks later against No. 5 Florida.

“I was super excited,” Montgomery said after the game. “I had a lot of time to recover and get my work in, get ready for this start. I felt great and just rolled with it.”

Anytime Florida State and Florida line up in the opposing dugouts for a game, there is plenty of intrigues, but when the No. 1 rated freshman in college baseball is making just his third career start against one of the best lineups in the country, it’s even more compelling.

That was evident when nearly 3,000 fans stuck around after an hour-long weather delay.

After the stormy clouds dissipated and the tarp was finally removed from the infield dirt, Montgomery spent the first four-plus innings mostly stifling a powerful Florida lineup and putting his superstar potential on full display in a 10-2 win.

Montgomery’s final line (4.2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 88 P, 46 S) wasn’t perfect, but his electric stuff frequently made an excellent Florida lineup look rather pedestrian for the first four innings.

“I thought Carson Montgomery was very good,” Martin Jr. said following the win. “Kind of ran out of gas. I was trying like crazy to get him the W, but it was a really positive step forward for him and for us.”

Montgomery’s nine strikeouts were pretty evenly distributed across his three pitches. He got four Florida hitters with his mid-90s fastball, three with his wipeout slider and two more with his improving changeup.

Montgomery and Florida State pitching coach Jimmy Belanger spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks focusing on his changeup. His command on that pitch eluded him in his last outing against Pitt, which caused his fastball and slider to be less effective.

Against Florida, Montgomery looked much more confident throwing his changeup. He threw it more often than he did in his first two starts of the season and generated several swings and misses on the pitch.

His last strikeout of the night was on a 2-2 changeup against a lefty. The pitch started at the bottom of the zone and sharply dove toward the plate at the end of its route, causing Colby Halter to whiff at it.

“I feel way more comfortable than I once was and I just throw it a ton now,” Montgomery said. “Belly’s been great working with me on it. I feel it’s a world of difference just how much more comfortable I feel.”

Montgomery registered 15 swings and misses total on Tuesday night and did so despite throwing only 52% of his pitches for strikes.

He struck out the side in the first inning, despite not throwing a first-pitch strike to any of the four batters he faced that inning. That is a testament to how dominant his raw stuff can be even when his command isn’t at its best.

Belanger’s mantra over the last couple of years at Florida State has been “AAA34K”, which stands for ‘any pitch, anytime, anywhere, three pitches for strikes.’

In past years, 2-2 and 3-2 counts normally meant pitchers would throw a fastball most of the time, but Belanger is one of many coaches around the sport trending away from that tradition.

Five of Montgomery’s nine strikeouts came via his changeup or slider on 2-2 or 3-2 counts. While he fell behind in the count quite a bit Tuesday night, he showed both the stuff to often compensate for falling behind, as well as the confidence to throw any of his three pitches during any count.

“We’ve seen it all fall and leading up to the spring, you know, when he’s on he’s got some of the best stuff in college baseball,” Robby Martin said, “so I was excited to see him go out there and do that and get back to doing what he does.”

At this time last year, there was no guarantee Montgomery would even make it to Florida State. With how talented he is, he likely would have been an early-round draft pick in 2020.

Through the first four innings of Tuesday, his stuff was overwhelming, even against one of the best offenses in college baseball. Not only did he not allow a hit through four innings, but Florida could not even hit one ball out of the infield to that point.

As Martin Jr. said though, he looked a bit fatigued in the fifth inning and ran into trouble before being removed with two outs. He allowed all three of his hits and both of his runs in his final frame, showing that he is still learning how to maintain his stuff deeper into games.

That will come with time and experience though. There is a steep learning curve at the collegiate level for every freshman pitcher, even ones as talented as Montgomery.

Tuesday should be the first of many nights in his Florida State career that Montgomery makes some hitters look helpless. The hype around Montgomery has been palpable since he arrived in Tallahassee. For the first time, his star potential was on full display against Florida, even if it wasn’t all perfect.

“He walked three and, you know, that’s something he’s got to improve upon, and he knows that,” Martin Jr. said. “He’s such a neat kid. He’s a sponge. He’s a great teammate. He’s got a chance to be really, really special, and I didn’t think he had his best stuff…but, you know, he made pitches when he needed to. He’s a difference-maker.”

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