KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For Mariners left-hander Mike Montgomery, his spot start Sunday against Kansas City will complete a career-long odyssey by making his first official career appearance at Kauffman Stadium.
Montgomery once appeared likely to spend his career at Kauffman. He was a first-round pick by the Royals in 2008 — the same year they took another high school player, first baseman Eric Hosmer, with the third overall pick.
It wasn’t long before Montgomery established himself as the Kansas City’s top pitching prospect. For three years, from 2010-12, he entered the season ranked by Baseball America as one of the game’s top 40 prospects.
Then his career stalled.
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"Yeah, it definitely isn't how I planned it, for sure," he said. "It’s cool to be here now. It’s a long journey. I could have been up at 21 but it wasn’t my time. I wasn’t ready.
"I’ve kind of taken the approach that it doesn't matter how long it took. I just had to figure out what I needed to do to be a big-league pitcher, and I’m come a long way since then. I've developed in many different ways.
"I’m happy to be here now."
Montgomery, 27, stayed in the Kansas City organization until a Dec. 9, 2012 trade sent him and Wil Myers, another top prospect, to Tampa Bay in a seven-player trade that returned pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.
Remember that Myers connection. More on that in a minute.
After two years in the Rays’ system, the Mariners acquired Montgomery prior to the 2015 season for pitcher Erasmo Ramirez. Montgomery started last season at Triple-A Tacoma before getting a June 2 recall to the big leagues.
Three weeks later, Montgomery faced Kansas City in his fifth career start — and he absolutely dominated his former organization by pitching a complete-game shutout in a 7-0 victory at Safeco Field.
He also set a career high with 10 strikeouts and — tellingly, given his development issues — didn’t walk a batter in a 105-pitch performance. He pitched a one-hit shutout in his next start against San Diego.
But Montgomery points to that start against Kansas City as being more memorable; the Royals loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning before he steadied.
"Yes, it was the former team but, really it was my first breakout game," he said. "For me, personally, I knew I could pitch there, and I had some success, but to throw a complete game against your former team…
"That was a big moment for me. My family was there. That was just one of the better moments of my career, for sure."
Montgomery faced the Royals again this season on May 1 and worked the final inning, a scoreless inning, in a 4-1 loss at Safeco. That makes 10 scoreless innings in his career against his former organization.
And now, after beginning this season in the bullpen, he gets to face the Royals again. An injury to Taijuan Walker created a spot-start opportunity for Montgomery that could, just maybe, lead to something more.
"I think, in my mind, my goal is to be a starter," he said, "and to be the best starter I can be. I have a lot of confidence in myself. I’ve learned a lot in the bullpen. You need to pitch with a greater sense of urgency."
Montgomery hopes to carry that into Sunday’s start.
"Hey, this might be my only start," he said. "I don’t know what’s going to happen, so I’m going to go out there and give everything I’ve got. I’m looking forward to it. I know how to get prepared to be a starter. I’m ready."
As noted above, this will be Montgomery’s first official appearance at Kauffman Stadium. But he’s pitched here before.
On April 2, 2011, the Royals, basking in the national praise for their farm system, held their own Futures Game. The game was played immediately following the big-league club’s 5-4 victory over the Angels in the third game of the season.
Montgomery started for Triple-A Omaha, while Myers, who would be the consensus minor-league player of the year in 2012, started for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Much of the crowd stayed to watch the future.
Myers now plays for San Diego and was picked recently as a National League reserve for the All-Star Game. He will also take part Monday in the Home Run Derby.
"We stretched over at the Chiefs’ place (adjacent Arrowhead Stadium)," Montgomery recalled, "and then walked over here and played. Wil Myers and I had been going back and forth for a while about wanting to face each other.
"I ended up striking him out here, which was pretty cool because we had been talking about it so much."
It’s been a long road back to the Kauffman mound.
Plans called for lefty reliever Charlie Furbush to begin a rehab assignment Friday at Short-A Everett by starting one of two games in the AquaSox’s doubleheader against Eugene (Cubs).
It will be Furbush’s first game action in more than a year.
It was one year ago Saturday — July 9, 2015 — he was placed on the disabled list because of left biceps tendinitis. The move came two days after Furbush had three strikeouts in a scoreless inning in a 7-6 victory over Detroit at Safeco Field.
Furbush was 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in got the victory, had 13 holds in 15 save situations and had stranded all 16 of his inherited runners.
***Right-hander Felix Hernandez is scheduled to start his rehab assignment Sunday by pitching four innings at Everett. He hasn’t pitched since May 27 because of a strained right calf muscle.
***Right-hander Taijuan Walker plans to leave the Mariners’ traveling party Saturday to travel to Charlotte, N.C., where he is scheduled to undergo an examination Sunday by Dr. Bob Anderson, a foot-and-ankle specialist.
Walker is battling tendinitis in his right foot, which forced an early exit in three of his last four starts.
***Right-hander Ryan Cook, who hasn’t pitched this season, is scheduled to start his rehab assignment Sunday at Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League. He was diagnosed in spring training with a strained right latissimus dorsi muscle in his back.
Kyle Seager collected his 25th double of the year in Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Royals and became the Mariner to reach that mark prior to the All-Star break since Raul Ibanez and Jose Lopez each had 26 in 2008.
Seager’s previous best pre-break total was 24 in 2013.
The club record for doubles prior to the break is 42 by Edgar Martinez in 1996. The only other player to reach 30 was John Olerud, who had 32 in 2002.
Double-A Jackson outfielder Tyler O’Neill is the only Mariners’ prospect cited by Baseball America on a midseason update of its Top 100 Prospects rankings.
O’Neill is ranked No. 45.
"The British Columbia bomber makes up for lack of height with premium bat speed and strength," the magazine reported, "and he’s making more contact too."
O’Neill, 21, will be participating Sunday in the All-Star Futures Game at Petco Park in San Diego after batting .303 this season with 15 homers and 63 RBIs in 79 games.
The Mariners selected O’Neill, 21, in the third round of the 2013 draft.
***Triple-A Tacoma first baseman D.J. Peterson ranked No. 6 this week on Baseball America’s Prospect Hot Sheet, which seeks to identify which of the games top prospects are currently performing at a high level.
Peterson, 24, batted .407 (11-for-27) with three homers and 10 RBIs over the previous seven games. He was the Mariners’ first-round pick, No. 12 overall, in the 2013 draft.
It was six years ago Saturday — July 9, 2010 — that the Mariners, in a rebuilding mode, traded left-handed starter Cliff Lee, a former Cy Young winner, and right-handed reliever Mark Lowe to Texas.
In return, the Mariners received first baseman Justin Smoak and three minor-league players: right-handed starter Blake Beavan, infielder Matt Lawson and right-handed reliever Josh Lueke.
The Mariners have reached agreements with two international prospects, shortstop Alexander Campos of Venezuela and right-handed pitcher Juan Then of the Dominican Republic. Baseball America rated Campos as the No. 49 international prospect…Ten of the Mariners’ last 19 losses, prior to Friday, were by one run…the Mariners have used 61 different lineups in their 87 games.
The Mariners and Royals continue their four-game series at 1:15 p.m. Pacific time Saturday at Kauffman Stadium. Lefty Wade Miley (6-5 with a 5.36 ERA) will face Kansas City right-hander Edinson Volquez (7-8, 4.87).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners