A couple of years ago, left-hander Jose Quintana entered the season on the front end of the White Sox’s pitching rotation.
This year, he is the nominal No. 5 guy for the crosstown Cubs.
Given the depth of the Cubs’ rotation, he’s not complaining.
“This is the best rotation I’ve been on,” Quintana told reporters recently in Arizona. “A couple of these guys have won championships; they know a lot about pitching; they have a lot of experience. It’s cool to be around and to be able to go to the mound every five days behind them with a good opportunity to win games.
“If we’re healthy, we’ll have a really good year.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon hasn’t announced his rotation beyond lefty Jon Lester, who starts next Thursday’s season opener in Texas. On the depth chart, Quintana fits in behind Lester, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks.
“I don’t know yet, but it doesn’t matter to me,” Quintana said. “I just want to help. I know Jon is the opening guy, and I’m really proud of him. It’s really good to follow guys like that, and guys like Hamels, Hendricks and Yu. I’m really happy to get an opportunity in this rotation with a lot of experience.”
The Cubs still are banking heavily on Quintana. They obtained him July 13, 2017, in a trade that sent the Sox top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease along with two other minor-leaguers. The Cubs were looking for a repeat of their 2016 World Series win, and they cited Quintana’s age (now 30) and the fact that he was signed through 2019 with a team option for 2020.
It’s too early to tell which team “won” the trade. Actually, fans and media talk more about “winning” trades than team executives, who are trying to fill either immediate short-term or long-term needs as painlessly as possible.
In his year and a half with the Cubs, Quintana is 20-14 with a 3.93 ERA and a WHIP of 1.25. For his career, he is 70-68 with a 3.60 ERA and the same 1.25 WHIP. He and Lester are the only two pitchers in the majors who have made at least 32 starts in each of the past six seasons.
So far in Cactus League play, Quintana is 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA. He has pitched nine innings, giving up six hits and two runs.
“All my stuff was good,” he said. “I’ve been working the changeup, and fastball command was good. I feel great, and I battled a lot. I feel great. I can hit my spots when I want. I can get ahead of the count quickly, and my breaking balls were good.”
If Quintana is indeed not scheduled to pitch in the season-opening series at Texas, it’s likely the Cubs will keep him in Arizona to keep working before he starts the next week in Atlanta.
Fangraphs.com sounds a cautionary note.
“Jose Quintana was able to adjust his approach in the middle of the 2017 season, giving the North Side of town a boost down the stretch,” wrote author Nick Pollack. “Unfortunately for the Cubs, his adjustments didn’t carry over into 2018 and it’s hard to expect a revival in his age-30 season. Quintana’s embrace of his changeup faded away, while his curveball was ineffective for the third straight season.
“It left the southpaw focusing on his four-seamer to do the dirty work and the end result was ... unappealing. It led to a career-high 15 percent HR/FB rate, his highest WHIP since his rookie season, and his fewest innings thrown per start. His breaking ball will need to take a step forward to recovery if Chicago wants to avoid the regret of handing their neighbors Eloy Jimenez.”