Jordan Montgomery's goal? To be the Yankees' second-half splash

Lefty Jordan Montgomery, recovering from Tommy John surgery, expects to be back after the All-Star break -- and to bolster the Yankees' starting rotation down the stretch. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. -- Since Jordan Montgomery learned last May he would be shut down to undergo Tommy John surgery, the New York Yankees starting pitcher has had one goal: to get back for the second half.

The second half of this season, that is, to make his return to a rotation that could be in need of a fresh, live arm.

As Montgomery revealed Wednesday, that anticipated comeback date hasn't changed.

"I've got four more months to get [the left elbow] as strong as I can and try to work on anything I want to: my mechanics, clean those out, get my legs stronger," Montgomery said. "Just to get in better shape and come back a whole new pitcher is the plan."

For the playoff-minded Yankees, Montgomery's post-All-Star Game plan could have major implications.

Over the offseason, the Yankees' triumvirate of co-managing partner Hal Steinbrenner, general manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone have separately lamented the way starting pitching harmed their club down the stretch last season, not to mention in the postseason. Thus, their major focus this winter was to upgrade the starting rotation, as well as the bullpen, with trades and free-agent signings.

Aside from J.A. Happ's stellar performances after being traded to the Bronx in late July, the Yankees' rotation struggled mightily heading into last October. Excluding the 7-0 record and 2.69 ERA Happ posted in the regular season after his second-half arrival -- a performance that helped get him re-signed in December to a two-year deal with an option -- the rest of New York's starting rotation went a combined 18-22 with a 4.47 ERA following last year's All-Star Game.

Yankees starters were 40-20 before the All-Star break with a 4.00 ERA.

Ace Luis Severino was a key cog in that more dominating first half. But his comparatively disappointing string of second-half starts set the tone for how the staff ended the year. Partly due to that, the Yankees pulled off a blockbuster deal for Seattle starter James Paxton in November, in addition to bringing back Happ.

So where does Montgomery fit into this? Perhaps the left-hander's newly repaired arm will provide another Happ-like boost.

"Hopefully in four months, right when I'm done with my rehab starts, then I'll be back," Montgomery said.

After making 29 starts in his rookie season -- winning 9 games, striking out 144 and posting a 3.88 ERA -- Montgomery got off to a solid start in his sophomore year. He was 2-0 with a 3.62 ERA through six starts. He gave up just two hits in a five-inning season debut. But in what would be his final start of the season, Montgomery came out due to elbow discomfort after getting through just one scoreless frame.

"Yeah. It sucks. You kind of have to get over yourself," Montgomery said of managing his frustrations during a 14-month recovery period.

The Yankees' current rotation -- headed by Severino and backed up by a combination of Paxton, Happ, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia -- looks good on paper. Still, injuries and other unforeseen circumstances always factor in. Sabathia, for his part, is entering his final season. The 38-year-old will be taking it easy at the start of spring training as he completes his recovery from an unexpected December heart procedure.

"There's obviously going to be attrition during the year, or even when things go perfect, guys are probably going to miss a start here or there," Boone said Wednesday. "But we feel like we have people within the organization right now capable of filling in.

"Even in the best of seasons, I don't know exactly what the numbers are, but you're going to [have] 30, 35, 40, up to 50 guys that make serious contributions to a club."

Montgomery's ideal contributions would come in some sort of back-end rotation help upon his return. As the Yankees monitor Sabathia's workload, Montgomery could be eased in as a fifth starter. Initially, he could also be an option as a sixth starter.

He doesn't figure to be the only Yankees pitcher in that type of situation this season. Boone acknowledged that a group of the organization's youngest, most promising pitchers could also factor into the rotational depth. Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga and Chance Adams (who each dazzled on occasion in spot starts last year), as well as Luis Cessa and minor league standout Michael King, should see big league action this year.

King is out for three weeks with an elbow issue, but Boone said the expectation is that he'll be OK.

As for Montgomery's left elbow, the starter knocked on the side of the wooden shell to his locker when reporting he'd had only one setback following his surgery last spring.

"Just general soreness. I feel like I'm just hypersensitive to everything in my elbow right now," Montgomery said. "That's what everyone says who's ever had Tommy John. You're so focused on it that you feel anything. But I feel good."

Montgomery resumed throwing just as the Yankees were entering the playoffs last fall. Since then, he has been training in Charleston, South Carolina, where he has made slow, incremental steps toward stretching out the distances he can throw.

He has spent the past three weeks making 50 throws from 90 feet in his various training sessions. He'll eventually work his way up to that many tosses from 120 feet, and he hopes to throw off a mound sometime in March.

By the middle of the summer, when his rehab is complete, there's only one place Montgomery wants to be: "Yankee Stadium."