COLUMBIA — Within the first two weeks of freshman pitcher Jordan Montgomery arriving at South Carolina last fall, he already had a nickname: Gumby. It came courtesy of teammate Logan Munson, whose locker is next to Montgomery’s.
“He said I resembled him, like in body type — long arms and long legs, just kind of flopping around, I guess,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery, a 6-3 left-hander, didn’t mind the nickname. He shrugged it off, just like he has shrugged off the pressure of being USC’s new Saturday starter, and the teasing his two older brothers give him for his baby face, which makes him look much younger than 19.
“They just tell me I’m not very intimidating because I look like a 12-year-old, but it doesn’t matter to me,” he said.
From the time Montgomery got to Columbia, he has impressed USC coach Ray Tanner with his poise and steadiness, which Tanner said is “a little bit surprising in a true freshman, and not all of our freshmen have exhibited those traits throughout the year.”
This weekend at Auburn, Montgomery will make his third Southeastern Conference start. For the season, he is 3-0 in eight appearances (six starts), with a 2.48 ERA, 31 strikeouts and four walks in 361/3 innings. The past two weekends against Tennessee and Mississippi State, he threw 141/3 innings combined, allowing eight hits and two runs. He struck out 11 batters and walked two.
Tanner has already given Montgomery high praise by comparing his freshman year to that of Kip Bouknight in 1998. Bouknight ended up winning 45 games in his career, still a school record.
“Is it fair to ask (Montgomery) to keep the pace?” Tanner said. “I don’t know. I hope he does. But he’s done a good job. He deserves to be where he is right now.”
This all started between Montgomery’s eighth- and ninth-grade years in Sumter, when he sprouted from 5-11 to 6-2.
“I came back to school and no one recognized me because I used to be kind of fat and chubby,” he said.
From the time he started pitching at age 11, he was a soft thrower who maybe could hit 81 mph. By his senior year, he was consistently throwing 85. Once he got to USC and started lifting weights, his velocity jumped to 88 in the fall.
USC pitching coach Jerry Meyers tweaked Montgomery’s motion to add some velocity.
Montgomery, the state’s 2011 high school player of the year, wasn’t drafted and received little attention from major league teams. He thinks it was due to his lack of velocity, which he believes isn’t done increasing. USC’s team doctor told Montgomery he’s not done growing, either, and Montgomery can envision himself being 6-7 and throwing 90 mph consistently — numbers that pro scouts love.
He isn’t bothered by the expectations of his fast start, as people wonder just how good he could become. The singular responsibility of pitching is what made him love it in the first place.
“It’s up to you how the game goes,” he said. “I can take the pressure.”
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