Jose Quintana could be piece that turns around puzzling Cubs rotation

Photos of Jose Quintana, who was traded to the Cubs from the White Sox.

The words rolled off Joe Maddon’s tongue like he had been waiting for years to put them together.

"Quintana manana," Maddon said in Spanish while sitting in the Cubs dugout before Saturday’s game against the Orioles at Camden Yards.

That, of course, translates to "Quintana tomorrow," meaning Sunday is the day of Jose Quintana’s highly anticipated Cubs debut.

Quintana may not be the kind of pitcher who instantly creates a ballpark buzz, as closer Aroldis Chapman did last summer when he arrived at Wrigley Field. But the former White Sox left-hander could be the piece that helps turn around a puzzling Cubs’ rotation that hasn’t fulfilled expectations after taking the club to a World Series title.

As the jolt from the Cubs-Sox deal wears off, it’s time to see if Quintana can be a game-changer in the National League Central race.

"It’s probably a win-win for everybody," Jon Lester said of the deal. "You don’t see trades where you don’t have to move houses or do anything.

"He’s pretty well set and established, knows his way around the city. Now he just has to drive north instead of south, just kind of get acclimated to his surroundings around here and get to know us a little bit."

Quintana has been in a whirlwind the last few days after becoming part of a crosstown trade that surprised everyone but a couple of anonymous Reddit commenters who blabbed about it online Wednesday night before the deal became official Thursday.

Quintana laughed when he heard former Sox teammates Derek Holland and Carlos Rodon Instagrammed a video in which they go through his Sox locker. Holland thanks Quintana in the video for "leaving us everything," adding "yard sale!"

One of the most popular players in the Sox clubhouse, his mere presence will be missed as much as his pitching.

"I called Melky (Cabrera) and said ‘Hey, I miss you guys,’" Quintana said. "He said ‘I miss you, too.’ But it’s part of the game, and I’m happy to be here, and all of my focus now is on the Cubs."

In Lester, Quintana, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, the Cubs now have four starters who have been considered their team’s ace at some point. Quintana struggled when he inherited that role this spring from the departed Chris Sale, but rediscovered his groove over the last six weeks, pitching the way everyone expected.

Now he’s in a different atmosphere, with added pressure to perform.

"Things are way different here," he said. "The Cubs are in good position to make the playoffs. I’m excited to be here with a contender. That’s what I wanted, and now I want to do the best I can do. I want to be here a long time."

Was Quintana tired of answering questions about the possibility of being traded, which began in January at SoxFest and continued for the next six months?

"Yeah, but I understand why you guys did it," he said. "That’s part of the game, and I enjoyed talking (to the media). But when the season started I didn’t want to talk too much about that. But for me, now it’s over, and I’m happy it’s over."

Quintana was one of the most consistent starters in the American League from 2013 until the start of this season, when he hit that road bump. But even with that slow start, he still has the second most quality starts (95) among AL pitchers since 2013.

But, as Sox fans know all too well, he also had the second-lowest run support average among qualifying AL starters since ’13, leaving him with only 44 victories in 147 starts in that span.

That glaring lack of offensive support, combined with some awful late-inning relief, led to a recurring theme on the South Side in which Quintana would cruise through six or seven innings only to get stuck with a no-decision.

Some early runs Sunday in Baltimore would be appreciated.

"I would think that our guys are going to be excited to play behind him for the first time," Maddon said. "That happens to some guys. Most of the time it happens in patches or stretches, then it goes away. That brings out the best in you."

Quintana has had to overcome adversity most of his career. The 28-year-old Colombian was released as a minor leaguer by his first team, the Mets, and the Yankees organization granted him free agency twice before the Sox signed him on Nov. 9, 2011.

Then he met pitching coach Don Cooper, who Quintana credits for his evolution from a 2011 suspect to 2016 All-Star.

"I learned a lot from ‘Coop,’ my first pitching coach," he said. "We have a really good relationship and I learned he’s special for pitchers. He gave me the gifts on how to be a better pitcher every day.

"I’m so proud of that and want to just say thank you to him. I appreciated the opportunity he gave me, teaching me how to be better."

Quintana is looking forward to his Wrigley debut in a Cubs’ uniform sometime next weekend against the Cardinals. He has made two starts at Wrigley, including a duel with Arrieta on July 12, 2015 when the Sox managed only two hits in a 3-1 loss.

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