The journey back to production and respectability has been tough, arduous, difficult and painful.
Throughout the ordeal, Diamondbacks’ catcher Miguel Montero paid the price for the restoration of glory.
After hitting .230 last season, the lowest of his major league career save his rookie year (.224 in 2007), and missing a month with a strained lower back, Montero, too demanding as an athlete and too proud as a teammate, began his ascend from the depths of despair. The journey began just after last season ended and still continues.
With numerous discussions in spring training on how to regain the gleam of the past, Montero repaired to the back fields of Salt River to begin the passage back. Extra time was spent with Henry Blanco, his mentor from the changing season of 2012, and long-time bullpen coach Glenn Sherlock.
At the same time, the lower batting average was equally addressed and work on the offensive side with coach Tuner Ward was similarly demanding. “We put a lot on his plate,” said manager Kirk Gibson and Montero responded with dedication, his usual zeal and firm direction.
Quickly, he made adjustments at the plate and his average and power production soared. At the All- Star break, his 52 RBIs is second on the team and only to Paul Goldschmidt, who has driven in 61 runs here at intermission.
With the second half just ahead, Montero has an opportunity to set a career mark in RBIs. He drove in 88 in 2012 and for the years 2011 and 2012, he drove in a combined 174 runs.
“It’s all about being patient,” Montero said. “Be patient and get a good pitch to hit. Stayed focused and just play my game.”
If Montero was tested to get his swing and production back, he challenged himself to improve defensively. Addressing the issues of important body control, release point and making sure the pitcher does his job by keeping the runner close at first, Montero has emerged as a defensive asset.
“Since spring training, I’ve worked work on my catching,” he said. “It’s a matter of confidence. At the same time, the pitcher has to give you time to throw out the runner. If everything is going all right, you have a good chance to throw the guy out.”
Always the teammate, Montero made a conscience effort to repair things which went amiss last season.
“He felt like he let us down last year,” Gibson said. “So, we worked on shortening his swing and told him to relax and not put pressure on himself.”
The plan was to take Montero away from thinking solely about catching. Gibson made sure he teamed with Ward on a daily basis in spring training, put the blinders on and think only about hitting.
The results have been encouraging, and Gibson added, “he’s much different than last year.”
To that end, his durability is astonishing.
While the game plan in spring training was to have Montero catch no more than 140 games, that does not seem that probable. Here at the break, he’s already appeared in 85 of the Diamondbacks’ 95 games and on a pace to eclipse his career mark of 141 games set in 2012.
Plus, at the break, he leads all major league catchers in RBIs, game played and innings caught.
Coming into the break, Montero has a .262 batting average and that’s considerable up from last year’s numbers. In power numbers, he’s hit 14 doubles, 11 home runs and second to Goldschmidt on the team on RBIs.
Turns out, National League manager Mike Metheny of the Cardinals was a close observer of Montero’s improvement. When Yadier Molina, the NL’s starting catcher went down for eight to 12 weeks with a ligament tear to his right thumb, Metheny quickly called for Montero to join teammate Goldschmidt on the NL all-star team.
For Montero, at 30-years-old and out of Caracas, Venezuela, this is his second All-Star contest. Previously, he was named to the 2011 NL squad and caught Brian Wilson, then closing for the San Francisco Giants, in the ninth inning during the NL’s eventual 3-1 victory in Chase Field.
BACK FROM THE MINORS
During the Al-Star break, the Diamondbacks recalled right-hander Trevor Cahill from Triple-A Reno.
To make room on the 25-man roster, the D-backs optioned righty Mike Bolsinger to the Aces.
For Cahill, his return formed, according to general manager Kevin Towers and field manager Kirk Gibson, a starting rotation of Wade Miley, Josh Collmenter, Vidal Nuno, Chase Anderson and Cahill.
For his part, Cahill was 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA in six starts with Reno. In previous 19 appearances with Arizona, Cahill was 1-6 and a 5.66 ERA. Yet, in four starts before demoted to the D-backs’ bullpen, he went 0-4 and a 9.17 ERA. Cahill was optioned to Reno on June 12.
In nine starts his season with Arizona, Bolsinger was 1-6 and an ERA of 5.50.
The Diamondbacks open their “second half” Friday night at home against the Cubs in the first of a three-game series. They are followed in by the Tigers for three next week and the D-backs get an up-close and personal look at Miguel Cabrera.