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Mike Montgomery wins now, shows promise for Cubs’ rotation in 2018

The Cubs have searched the markets far and wide for more than a year to find the starting pitchers they’ll need next season, when Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are gone in free agency.

That’s why they jumped at the chance to trade for Jose Quintana during the All-Star break.

The rest of the answer to filling the starting five in 2018 might be the tall left-hander who left the mound to a standing ovation in the eighth inning of a 6-1 victory over the Pirates on Monday night at Wrigley Field.

Filling in for the injured Jon Lester the last two turns through the rotation, Mike Montgomery has looked so commanding that one press-box wise guy said: “Game 1 playoff starter?”

Mike Montgomery acknowledges the crowd as he leaves the field Monday in the eighth inning. The lefty has two of the Cubs' last three wins.

Montgomery has not only looked the part of an impact starter for a team clinging to a slim division lead, but he’s also giving the front office a vivid image of what he might look like as part of a three-lefty rotation next year.

“He’s looked good,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “He’s got a lot of weapons, and he handles lefties and righties well. We’ll certainly consider all of those factors when we’re looking at the rotation for next year.”

Montgomery (5-6), who didn’t walk a batter, gave up only five singles to the Pirates until Jordy Mercer led off the eighth with a home run to end his start.

It also ended a streak of 17„ scoreless innings for Montgomery.

He’s 3-0 with two runs allowed in 19 innings (0.95 ERA) in his last three starts, going back to his final start for the injured Kyle Hendricks in July.

This gem — which got significant fielding assistance from shortstop Javy Baez — helped extend the Cubs’ lead in the National League Central over the idle Brewers to 2½ games and helped extinguish the burn of their series loss during the weekend to the pitiful Phillies.

Montgomery might get another start before Lester’s return — or possibly regardless of Lester’s return date — on Saturday or Sunday against the Braves’ lineup he held to two hits in six innings in July.

But don’t expect him to consider the audition value for 2018 of this return to the rotation.

“There is some aspect of that, but I don’t look at it that way,” said Montgomery, who was acquired from the Mariners in a trade last summer. “You look at the big picture of things, and you could see a lot of opportunities to be had, but I don’t really have the luxury of looking big picture right now. We’ve got a month left of the season, and I’ve got to stay really focused on that.”

Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein can’t help but look ahead as they keep one eye on the 2017 stretch drive.

And the 6-5 lefty with the sinking fastball and knee-buckling curveball (just ask the Reds’ Joey Votto about that pitch) has put on a show during this latest opportunity.

Hoyer is quick to point out the value of the swingman’s versatility as a long or situational reliever, whose first career save was in Game 7 of last year’s World Series.

“We talk about it all the time: It’s not going to be five starters,” Hoyer said. “We have to think through it that way. The best teams have six, seven, eight guys that can do it. He’s definitely going to be one of those guys.”

As manager Joe Maddon emphasized again: “His future is as a starter.”

His best opportunity might come next spring. He might be making his best case right now.

“I want to start,” Montgomery said. “But I like winning. Being on a team that’s winning trumps pretty much anything else. And you’ve got to put your ego aside in that case in order to be part of it.

“You’ve got to pitch well. The opportunities come after that.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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